Almost Famous

I'm happy to announce that Hot Off the Sales Rack was a subject in an article on bargain-lovin' blogs. You can read it here. I've been a reader of a couple of blogs discussed therein, and now I'll become a reader of a few more (Stop Buying Crap is as hilarious as it is informative...way to pass my time in class today).

Thank you, Jennifer!


Money and Politics

We all know that big money and politics are inevitably intertwined, whether we're talking about pork (not the meat) or Jack Abramoff. Still, we can try to do something about it. I may sound a bit idealistic here, but all I'm saying is that the lesser of two evils is better than, well, the alternative. There are propositions to vote on, and crooked politicians to throw out...can't you feel your power? Aren't you licking your chops in anticipation of giving that incompetent official the ax?

Election season also means it's time for us regular folks to earn a little money. I'm talking about being a poll worker or supervisor. For college students, retirees, and stay at home spouses, it's an opportunity to make anywhere between $100-300, depending on where you are and what you're responsible for doing. A couple of weeks ago I was listening to "All Things Considered" on NPR, and there was a story about how one state (Maryland, I think?) was having a shortage of poll workers. The state was willing to pay a little extra and provide workshops to train the workers.

Notice that I didn't say make a quick buck, since it's by no means quick. Nor did I say it's an easy job, though the individual tasks do not appear to be all that complicated. The money you get is money earned. Being a poll worker can be a thankless job, and it involves very long hours (think 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., for those in L.A. County). Still, it's a very important job, and if you have nothing else to do on November 7, why not do your patriotic duty and get some moral and pecuniary satisfaction out of it?

As far as I know, traing sessions are still going on in L.A. County, and with complicated new technology like touch-screen voting, they need people who can understand what's going on and help others get it. Most places are still looking for people to work the polls, so if you've been thinking about it or just learned about it, there's still time.

As my professor was urging us today to go vote, I'm doing the same here. L.A. County residents, you can now apply for an absentee ballot online. The deadline is October 31. Sign up, and you should get it in the mail within 2 days. For everyone else, just Google it.

I'm gonna take advantage of the slew of election-related speaker events on campus to get educated...and get some free lunch while I'm at it (hehe).


Right On Target

I went to get some stockings from Target on Friday; it was scary to see how the leggings were all sold out...the anti-leggings camp is starting to become a lonely place. Anyway, I got a chance to see the new goodies, and I was quite pleased. Too bad I'm low on cash and will have to wait for the leftovers.

In my opinion, the Behnaz Sarafpour "Go International" collection is the most wearable yet. The Paul and Joe stuff is more casual and fun, but the new collection is much more sophisticated and timeless. They're things that you can wear to work or to a fancy restaurant.

My favorite are the jackets, particularly this one. It looked beautiful--I love the texture and the detailed enclosure. Of course, that means it's really expensive as well ($90). At least the price isn't unjustified. The store also had a luxurious-looking leopard-print faux-fur jacket.

The dresses were oh so pretty.

I think the picture speaks for itself. Yes, the material is cheapy, but I love the color and the lace.

The cardigans are also cute because of the lace detailing, the sleeveless tops are light and flirty, but I was rather disappointed in the shirts. I didn't like the satin blouse very much (simply because it's not very practical for me), and the puff-sleeved shirt is almost the same as the Paul and Joe one. Come to think of it, the Paul and Joe version is simpler and better. The jewel applique tee is, quite frankly, ugly--the big stones make it look like some arts and crafts fair project.

Despite the shortcomings in the shirts, I think it's a very, very good collection overall--definitely looks like something from a big-time designer.

There were more goodies in store. I read from somewhere that Rafe was going to have a line of handbags for Target. I love his handbags and won't be able to afford them for a very long time, so I was very excited. He's not exactly a household name, but I think more people will come to appreciate his work now. You can read his thoughts on his Target line here.

When I saw this clutch...

I almost caved and bought it. At full price. I almost never do that. It is seriously that cute. At $20, it wouldn't have hurt me that much if I did pay full price...that would be my "splurge."

The doctor bag also made me weak at the knees. I looked it over, up and down, inside and out, and it's one of the best things I've ever seen in Target's accessories section. Unfortunately, the $50 that I have lying around now is reserved for living expenses. When I get some Christmas money as gifts, maybe I'll be able to get one. I have a thing for navy blue--I loved the navy blue clutch, and I loved the navy blue hobo too. It looks great, but I don't like the magnetic enclosure. Since I'm always jamming way too much stuff in my bag, I'm afraid that the magnetic enclosure won't stay closed.



There are days when I can't think of anything to write about, then there are days when there are sudden explosions of lots of ideas. Well, right now I'm in the throes of those sudden explosions of ideas, and I'm also in the middle of preparing for a (mock) trial (that's worth half my grade). Some ideas are time-sensitive, others are not, so I'll try to put up the time-sensitive ones first and work the rest around my school schedule. Hence, my "good works" series will be on hold for now, but it'll definitely finish up before the holidays.

Retail Therapy

Sometimes I make fun of the concept of "retail therapy"--it's just an excuse to shop, and it's not healthy to rely on material things to be happy. However, shopping yesterday really was therapeutic. I enjoyed it in a way that I haven't felt in a long time.

I take on almost more than I can handle and I'm always on the run. I enjoy shopping for fun, but even then I have very specific objectives in mind. That certainly helps keep the lid on costs associated with unnecessary impulse buys; I wondered if it also takes a bit of fun out of shopping. I figured out the answer yesterday, when part of the shopping was planned, and the other part was not. My trip to Target was planned--after I was excused from jury duty, I went to a nearby Target because I needed fishnet stockings for my Halloween costume and gray patterned tights (more on working both of these on another day). When I tried to get to the freeway, I took a wrong turn and went in the opposite direction. By the time I figured that out, it was still early enough that I could have rushed back home to get things done, but you know what? I was tired of rushing. I was tired of running. That's all I've been doing lately, whether it's using my little bit of free time to run errands or staying up all night to get assignments done.

I decided to go to Old Town Pasadena, since I was already heading in that direction. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the greater Los Angeles area, Old Town is the hip and trendy section of the city of Pasadena, about a 20-minute drive (or quicker if you drive like me) from Downtown LA. The last time I was there, I didn't have a chance to check out the new H&M. I also wanted to go over to the Forever 21 that opened in the summer--I saw people walking from a general direction with bags in their hands, but I never knew exactly where the store was until much later.

When I was on the East Coast, I thought H&M's accessories section was great. I bought a necklace for $5, and I get compliments every time I wear it. Back then I thought the clothes were just OK--people may describe Forever 21 and H&M as being "cheap," but sometimes the prices they charge are still pretty high for me. This time I went in and left with the same impression. There were about 5 security guards in and around the store (I guess it's that popular with shoppers and shoplifters alike), and I hate feeling like Big Brother is after my every move. The clothes were unimpressive, and even the jewelry section was disappointing (could be a seasonal problem, so I can let it go). The 30% off pants sale was not enough to entice me to remain.

In contrast, I love the new Forever 21 even though there was nothing for me to buy there. It is located at where Saks Fifth Avenue used to be, which is a huge retail space. I like how there are different themes in different parts of the store, and that everything are well-organized, unlike the chaotic mall stores. It helps that yesterday was a weekday, but I think the way things are organized can withstand heavy traffic flows. The store was so big that there was a corner for the guys (which I've never seen before) and another place for baby clothes (shocking). Very cool store.

Despite the successes of others, I can never find anything I like that's super cheap at Urban Outfitters. This time is no exception. I wandered through boutiques that I haven't visited before, and those were unremarkable. My last stop was The Container Store, and I had a great time there. I love home goods, and with my expanding collection of "stuff" in general, I need more things to help keep my room uncluttered...ironic, but it works. The Container Store has lots of very cool but expensive organization tools, which of course means I couldn't buy them, but I was fascinated by what I found upstairs. I was especially interested in packing materials and small boxes for jewelry that I make for other people. To me, presentation makes a huge difference. I acquire or make items at little cost to myself, but I put a lot of thought in selecting gifts. Still, people may not get that and think I'm just cheap; to make the gifts feel more special, I employ fancier packaging that costs only a nominal amount.

I ended up getting these nifty little boxes--the smallest ones (about 2 finger widths on each side) were 39 cents, the blue one was 49 cents, and 59 cents for the one on the bottom. Very inexpensive packaging, yet totally cool. The tiny boxes obviously don't hold much, but they're big enough to fit a simple chain necklace or a pair of small earrings.

The down side is that I spent way too much time at The Container Store and had to pay $2 for parking; I went over the 90-minute free parking period by a few minutes. I was fuming about that a bit, but then I let it go and had a great, cheap lunch in Alhambra with a couple of friends. $6.99 for a combo meal at a Thai place (which includes a small bowl of soup, rice, 3 items of your choice, and a Thai ice tea or another drink if you so wish) is a really good deal. I went home feeling very satisfied.

I figured out what makes a retail therapy session work for me. The cardinal rule remains "don't splurge." I realized that buying things isn't what made me happy, which is good--I bought only what I needed. What made me feel happy was the leisurely time spent looking at things for artistic and fashion inspirations. If I go shopping while stressed, the act of shopping will only become more stressful. To enjoy the shopping and let it be therapeutic, it's necessary to have that relaxed frame of mind first. Don't think about having to pick up the dry cleaning or which legal argument goes with which fact in such and such case. Let it go and just enjoy the moment.


Good Works (Part 1): Tiny Jury Fee, Absolutely Simple Choice

Wow, I am surprisingly prolific in terms of blogging this week. I guess I'm a bit lazy because I'm taking a de facto break after of all the hustling I had to do these last 2 weeks for school stuff. Still, my jury duty has turned this week into a topsy-turvy. I have to go back at the end of the week, which means no sample sale shopping. Bummers. At least I think I get my 15 bucks plus mileage for the second day of service...which leads me to the beginning of yet another series.

I strongly believe that we should all give back to the community because we owe our successes to community support. Since I don't have much by the way of monetary assets, I try to stretch what little I have into as big a gift as possible. You may recall how my class managed to raise a load of money for Hurricane Katrina relief; if not, here's the story. In this new series, I'll talk about more ways you can make a big impact without spending much money. In some cases, it's not about the money. It's about other supplies. It's the thought that counts.

Back to today's topic: jury fees. You certainly can't count on jury service to get you a quick buck. I don't know how it works in other parts of the country (or other counties for that matter), but L.A. County has a system where jurors don't get paid for the first day of service, but they do get paid $15 plus mileage for subsequent days of service. Curiously enough, government employees would only get mileage, not the $15. I can use that $15, and I do need the money, but for those of you who are government employees who end up with really nominal (think in the pennies) fees, you might want to consider donating your fees.

It costs more for the government to send you a check than the check is worth, then it takes more gas money to get to the bank to deposit the check...kinda silly, huh? All that money spent just so that you can have your 50 cents--if that's not waste, I don't know what is. So why not just let those few cents and dollars go to a good cause? The court I was at runs several programs, including one for abused and neglected kids. If each person donate their nominal fees, it would help out. For "civilians" who are well off enough not to need the $15, or those who get paid by their employers for their jury service anyway, consider donating that money to any cause of your choosing (not limited to the court-affiliated ones, I mean). It may seem like chump change for you, but $15 can buy a lot of things.

[As a bonus for my fellow law nerds: caught my bad joke of the day buried in the title? Sorry, I picked up the bad habit from a couple of profs. Gotta give them props for at least trying to make the UCC and Lanham Act fun.]


Halloween Costume Ideas

Just my luck--I have to go in for jury duty in the morning. That also means I'll have to miss school. So, instead of having to read for my classes, I spent whatever was left of tonight watching the second half of Prison Break, eating dinner, working out, doing things for my own trial, and sorting through some random thoughts. One of those random thoughts was Halloween costume ideas. I have a Halloween social to go to on campus, and I decided against wearing a costume. Nonetheless, it was fun just thinking about it.

Since I'm cheap, I refuse to go out and spend $20 on a costume that I'd wear just once. I prefer using real clothes that I already have and perhaps buy a few cheap props. Here are a few ideas I concocted with a few trendy items in mind. Not all of the ideas are fully conceived, but that means you get the fun of filling in the gaps. Beats going as "yourself," right?

1) Plaid--it's all the rage this season, and very useful for costumes. There's always the Catholic schoolgirl look. You can also wear plaid with overalls (the ones wallowing in the dark depths of your closet, or on the racks of the thrift store), a straw hat, and hiking boots for the farmer look.

2) Skinny pants and boots--I used to hate the jeans tucked into boots look, but I'm starting to come around. The combo can be used for a number of outfits.

-You can be a pirate. Add a billowy, oversized shirt, a big belt, red bandana tied around your head, and a cheap toy sword and you're ready to become the next Jack Sparrow. You can probably make your own eyepatch or get one for cheap from the toy section.

-Alternately, you can create an equestrian look. Add a white blouse (preferrably in a tie-neck style, or if you don't have one, tie a scarf around your neck) and a fitted blazer. You can probably make your own riding crop if you have a thin black stick from somewhere. As for the hat, a black baseball cap is probably the closest you can come to an equestrian hat. You can probably do without one.

3) Stripped tops and wide legged pants--all you need is a sailor hat, Sailor! If you want to get fancier, add a red bandanna around your neck.

4) Fitted, dark-colored scoop-neck vests--this one is inspired by what I saw at Oktoberfest last week. If you have a peasant blouse and an A-line skirt, you can dress up as a village maiden (the vest is worn over the blouse, of course). Add a below-the-waist apron if you've got one. If you can get a cheap garland to go around your head, great. If not, you can let your hair down, twist a section from each side of your head, and tie those together at the back of your head. Or you can braid your hair--it's up to you.

5) Victorian tops--for the obvious Victorian look. You'll need to add a dark ankle-length skirt for this one; a bustle would be too much to ask and is virtually nonexistent nowadays. Tie your hair up in a bun on top of your head. Got a parasol? Even cuter. If you have a wide-brimmed hat, even better. Back in the day, going out without a hat is scandalous. Makes me think of those Manet painting for some reason (no, I'm not misspelling the artist's name).

6) Beads and empire waist dress--I don't know how well this works, but I'm thinking of a wealthy young lady in the early 1900's. I wore this the other day and one of my friends remarked that it looked really 1920's flapper-like:

I think the key elements are 1) the dark color, 2) empire waist, 3) the lacy portion from the cami that peaks out from underneath, along with 4) the lots of beads I used. For the flapper look, I'd tie a scarf around the head like a turban (another trend from the runways that I don't understand). As for the hair, I'm picturing either an up-do or curls on the ends of hair that's down. High heels are a must. The top portion of my outfit looks '20s, but the bottom is trickier. Other than a flapper skirt, it's hard to make it work, which is why I'm suggesting an empire waist dress. The longer, the better--remember, retro hemlines are long.

There are also a couple ideas for the guys, though these involve objects not found in your closet:

1) A few years ago, 2 of my roommate's friends showed up as a pair of ghosts. You'd think wearing a white trash bag would look stupid, but they actually did a good job decorating the bags. One had a smiley face, the other was frowning. The key was drawing the eyes and mouth in big bold strokes. Poke 2 holes for the eyes after you've drawn them in. And Stacie is right--don't suffocate! Cut holes for breathing. This costume idea is for adults only.

2) Another year, a friend showed up seemingly dressed in nothing but a cardboard box covering his bottom half. I thought it was an awesome and ultracheap costume. The trick is to find a cardboard box big enough to cover the waist down the the knees (duh) and making it stay up. I can't remember how my friend kept the box on, but I think it helps to tie ropes on the boxes to make straps that go across the body so that your shoulders can hold the box up. Please, for the sake of everyone else at the party, don't literally wear just a box.

3) I've seen other truly original costumes, but for the sake of preserving originality, I won't disclose the details here. Let's just say, be creative with a play on words, especially homophones. My friend took "serial killer" into a whole different level.


The Price of Citizenship

I know that the title sounds all kinds of ominous and political. Even though I'm very politically opinionated, I try not to do it here (or at least I keep it to a minimum). The reason why I'm writing about citizenship is because I came across this article in the New York Times last night.

For those who have to apply for citizenship after the 5 years, or 3 years, or whatever time requirement the individual's circumstances wararant, it is a very lengthy and expensive process. Not only does the applicant have to pay for the application fee itself (which costs a couple hundred dollars per person), but there are other fees involved. The application isn't a very user-friendly one. Most often, those applying for citizenship will have to pay someone to do it, such as a lawyer (and I know better how much that costs). Then there are more fees involved in getting pictures taken, and perhaps in hunting down all the necessary documents. There are also time commitments in the form of appointments for fingerprinting and "the interview." Personally, I know people who got their interview in a year, and others who had to wait a couple of years, even though they are members of the same family. Some people might have to go through more than one.

Most people do want to apply for citizenship right when they can, but unfortunately, the application process is already expensive as it is. Many immigrants are low-income, so a couple hundred dollars is a lot. If there are other family members, the total costs of obtaining citizenship for the entire family can run into the thousands. That's one of the reasons why it gets put off--it takes a lot of time to save up that kind of money. There really isn't much of a choice.

While it is tough to scrape together the money to get it done, it might be a good idea to make it a priority if you are in this situation. I'm not saying that anyone should get into debt to do this (it would be a bad, bad idea), but try to start saving long before you're eligible for citizenship. As the NYT article mentioned, the USCIS (formerly known as the INS) is seeking a "substantial" fee increase in order to cut down on the backlog. The estimated figure is $400 per application. In a world where the University of California tuition has gone up 20% in the blink of an eye and keeps on rising, I have a feeling that the $400 figure will go up even higher. I know that it's extremely difficult to put together that kind of money, but putting it off will only get more expensive in the long run.

Citzenship certainly confers a lot of benefits. It eliminates the constant fear that one arrest can lead to deportation (no, I'm not exaggerating here), it allows a person to get the necessary clearance for defense/government jobs, and so on. Here's where I get a little political: in return, we should fulfill our duties as citizens. Go vote in next month's elections. If you're too lazy to go to the polling place, do absentee balloting. Remember that your vote will ultimately decide how your money is spent via government policies, no matter what your political affiliation is.

Another duty is jury duty. Grumble as much as much as you want whenever you get that jury summon, but make sure you go. I'm griping about how I have to call in each night this week to find out if I have to serve, but at least I'm grateful that they didn't make me go during finals yet again (does the "random" juror selection computer have a sixth sense when it comes to students or something?). Oh well, I'm sure that I won't make it past the voir dire stage anyway. If you're a student who is ordered to serve during finals, try to get a postponement for the holidays or early next quarter/semester, when school isn't busy. Dumping the jury summons and pretending you never got it is a baaad idea.


Le Train Bleu Moving Sale

One of my favorite e-stores (if only for window shopping most of the time) is Le Train Bleu. I did buy something from them once, and the customer service was fabulous. The sale section is pretty good, and even better when there's a code. Now you can get 30% off (excluding Rebecca Taylor items) with the code "moving." Sale ends 10/31.

If I weren't so broke, I'd spring for some cute shoes. The Dani wedges by Pink Studio (slowly becoming one of my favorite brand of shoes) is simply adorable. I've been lusting after the Barney boots since last year. Ah well, someday I'll have something even better.

Since when have I become so materialistic? This is not good.


Well-crafted detour

I'm about to enter into another crazy weekend and another crazy week, so I took my brief moment of freedom yesterday to run errands. Unfortunately, police activity lead to road closures. I was really, really tired and really didn't need that. I had to take a detour, but at least it caused me to wind up near FIDM. It's already October and the holiday season is coming up soon, and given my busy schedule, I figured I better start my Christmas shopping. I plan to buy some stuff, and make some stuff.

In the clothing department, the stock in the FIDM store changes all the time. There were days when I went and found nothing, and then there were days full of gems. Yesterday was a good day. There were items evidently donated by posh boutiques, which reinforces my philosophy on why expensive clothes are not necessarily good.

I found some good stuff, such as this green Splendid ribbed tank which carried a price tag of $5, instead of the retail $40:

[American Eagle newsboy cap, Splendid tank, vintage scarf, Park Vogel sheer hoodie, Alice + Olivia pants, YakPak shoes]

I love kelly green and have always wanted something in this color, but it's a matter of finding what's right for me. I have a few other pieces from Splendid and loved the softness, though they were paper-thin and prone to small holes. This tank is very soft and comfortable, and since it isn't paper-thin like the aforementioned Splendid tops, I don't have to worry about this falling apart in the wash. The back is cut a little lower than the average beater, but not too low--very cute.

Also on the "good find" column is a cute Juicy Couture top for $10--the fit was fabulous, the fabric was nice and soft, but let's face it, a baby pink is not the choice color for adults. That went back onto the rack. There was a pair of size 32 Antik Denim jeans for $15. That price is just unheard of for a genuine pair of "premium" denim. There were various tops that I didn't need and won't work for people I want to buy them for, so I let them be.

On the flip side, I saw some items that retailed hundreds of dollars...and are utterly unwearable. For instance, who would want to buy a $300 pair of crocheted lace pants? It might work as a swim coverup, but that's a really expensive and ugly one. Designers--at times brilliant, at times misunderstood. I appreciate modern art, but I just don't get some of the clothes that are out there.

I also picked up various items, some for wearing and some for crafting:

I don't know why, but I've been losing a lot of my socks, and those that I still have are losing elasticity and getting really loose. So when I saw a 3 for $5 special on cute socks, I knew it was a good opportunity to replenish my supplies. I love the one with the clouds, and the "I'm a Star" pair goes well with my darker colored sneakers.

I like going through the fabrics and notions section of the store. I wanted to make a necklace with some chiffon material, and I wanted variety without paying a whole lot, so the 3 for $1 fabric headers was a natural choice. I also picked up big white plastic beads for 50 cents and 3 yards of trim ribbon for a dollar. The trim has that Americana feel, and certain members of my family really love that. I just think it's cute and will be great for little bows. Pretty roll of trim, I've got plans for you...

I was really tired and didn't figure it out until after I've paid and left the store, but I paid a total of $7 for my haul. Either the socks or the top wasn't counted. Ah well, it's not like I intentionally tried to cheat them.

Next week I'll try to hit up some sample sales, because my life will soon dissolve into further madness as I prepare for a trial and for finals. Gotta take care of business while I still have the time.


Adrenaline Days (Part 3): The Buzz

Caffeine is cheap at home, but the markup is so much higher once you're out in the world. At my school, they charge a dollar for a cup of tea. You're sure as heck not paying for the service--you get the cup, fetch your own hot water, and then you get the teabag of choice before hitting the counter to pay for it all. If you didn't buy the teabag and just want hot water, they actually charge for that. Nowadays supermarkets stock iced tea packets that don't require hot water, just a receptacle and water from the water fountain, but who wants iced tea when it's Fall or the dead of Winter?

If you have access to hot water, it's easy and cheap to supply your own caffeine, but unfortunately, hot water isn't always available. Sometimes tea isn't strong enough and you need that double shot espresso to stay awake in class or through boring meetings...I know how that is, I've had to sit through both. Sometimes we're far away from home and need to find a place with wi-fi access to get work done, and buying caffeine is an incidental cost; you're essentially paying for a work space. Today's post, my friends, covers situations where we're forced to pay for caffeine.

1) Fast food places are by definition cheap, but the long lines are unappealing when you're in a hurry. Vending machine coffees are passable as far as the buzz is concerned, but the taste is pretty bad for the price (75 cents to a dollar). I think there are better alternatives: a lot of bakeries and mom-and-pop convenience stores sell coffee for 50 cents a cup. I usually hold off on caffeine until the mid-afternoon, so I haven't bought coffee from bakeries in the morning, but I think it's a sensible, efficient place stop when you want to grab breakfast and also something to save for an afternoon snack.

2) If you have a long drive and can't stand cold coffee, bring your own thermos. Some places are willing to serve your coffee in your thermos, but if not, fill your thermos when you get back into your car.

3) If you're cheap and plan on camping out at a coffee house in order to get work done, the question is how much coffee or tea you'll be buying. You want enough to last throughout your stay, but then again, it would be a waste if you ordered a huge cup of coffee and have to stop drinking after a few sips because you can't handle the buzz. Your options really depend on how tired you are and what your caffeine tolerance is, and how long you plan to stay there.

Why is it important to take both tolerance and work time into consideration? If I'm tired to begin with and think I wouldn't be staying there for long, I'd usually get a small cup of the strong stuff. If I ended up staying out longer and ran out of coffee, I'd buy a cup of the regular coffee. Because of my miscalculation, I'd end up spending extra on coffee: both cups added together is more expensive than if I got 1 cup of a bigger size. Think about it: a small cup of the strong stuff at Starbucks is about $3, and the bigger sizes are anywhere between a quarter to 75 cents more. It's obviously cheaper to get the bigger cup rather than 2 separate cups, but you'll only save money if you're going to drink it all.

If you're going to work for a long time, a bigger cup (of whichever intensity you can handle) is better. Don't forget to pace yourself, though. My venti green tea latte kept me lucid throughout the night when I had to get my paper done. Contrast that with another occasion when I got something from the Coffee Bean, drank too fast, and ended up bouncing off the walls, unable to concentrate.

4) If you're going to be at the coffee house literally all day, you have to eat sometime. The food is often expensive there, so if you can find a nice hidden corner, bust out your own food. Be discrete about it, though--don't bring food that obviously don't mesh with what they sell. Stick with packaged danishes or muffins, or if their selections are broader, you might be able to get away with sandwiches or prepackaged salads. I'm not particularly encouraging this behavior, though...it's not healthy being stuck in one place for an extended period of time. It's probably better to work, go somewhere else for a meal, then come back; in this case, the cheaper strategy is to buy a cup of the cheap stuff for each half of your work session.

Not a particularly enlightening post, I know, but a dollar here and a dollar there does add up, so I hope these tips will help you keep those dollars where they belong: in your pocket.


Ad Up

I didn't want to "sell out," but here's the thing: I need to scrape together $3500 for my Bar course. Money is tight, and I'm far too busy with school to continue working regularly. So, I've joined "the dark side" and signed up for an AdSense account. I doubt I'll be able to make much money that way ($10 if I'm lucky?), so let's see what I can get out of it. Every little bit helps, I suppose.

Adrenaline Days (Part 2): Food for Thought

The busier I get, the less I cook, but even if I made enough to fix up a meal-on-the-go, it's not always practicable. When I'm having my 12-hour days away for school or work + gym, meals are always a problem. Eating out is draining on my finances, yet carrying food around (and heating it up) is troublesome. Today I'll talk about what could be done on the home front and on the road.

Let's start with home...

1) Family packs of meat with bones attached is the least expensive of all. Unfortunately, they require the most treatment. Deboning takes forever. One way to cut down on processing time is to use recipes that involve baking, stewing, or a crock pot. The meat will either fall off the bones or cook through and through. Unfortunately, I don't have a crock pot, and I don't have enough time to wait for stewing, so baking it is. But when you've been out all day long, you're going to be hungry and not want to wait an hour or so for a meal. Cooking over the stove is a lot quicker. That's why I've been more willing to spend a little more money on leaner, boneless cuts of meat...when they're on sale, of course. I've also been eating a lot of fish because they take less work. Costco and supermarkets in general have frozen packs of boneless meats and seafood, which make cooking on the fly quick and easy.

2) If you only have 1 or 2 days a week to cook, like I do, you're going to make massive amounts of food. That leads to another problem--when you have to eat the same thing for a whole week, you're going to get tired of it and be tempted to eat out. Resist that urge. There are a couple of options. You can make something with completely different ingredients. This gives you a break from what you've been eating, but make sure you don't make too much or it or else you'll end up with more unsavory leftovers. Alternatively, when you cook the massive amounts of food to last a week, make separate dishes (veggies, meats, etc.) instead of mixing everything together to make just one dish. The leftovers can serve as separate starting materials for new dishes. For example, I like to use leftover beef to make stroganoff, or leftover salmons for cream pasta. Veggies are handy for noodle soups.

3) Keep your pantry stocked with canned soups/broths and pastas/noodles, and have frozen veggies and TV dinners in your freezer. I'd advise against packing your freezer with premade food, as that would make it tempting to skip out on cooking, but it's good to have something quick around. Soups can be a meal in of themselves or as bases for sauces. In the aforementioned salmon pasta, I'd combine the salmon w/a can of cream of mushroom soup and some frozen or leftover veggies for a tasty meal that takes only 10 minutes to concoct.

Now for eating out. When I was working in the summer, my workplace didn't have a microwave and I need bigger portions of sandwiches/salads than I can carry from home in a little lunchbox, so I had no choice but to eat out for lunch. Oftentimes I hit the gym afterwards, so I need to worry about dinner as well. Here are a couple of things I did or wish I did:

1) Stretch your meals--if you're going to be on the go for 2 meals, get a big portion for lunch and save leftovers for dinner. That way, you end up with two meals for the price of one. Since I had no place to heat my dinner, I usually choose salads or sandwiches. If I get a complimentary loaf of bread from lunch that I can't eat at that time, I'd hang onto it and buy a cheap portion of soup to eat with it later.

2) Eating out, cheaply, and healthfully is a tough balancing act, especially if all you have to work with is fast food. I usually stay away from value meals because they're expensive and not very good for you. It's cheaper to build your own value meal: at McD's, I'd get a $1 chicken sandwich with a $1 side salad or yogurt parfait, and drink water instead of soda. Better than spending an extra $2-3 for fries and soda.

3) Bring something, buy something--I wish I had done that. I could have brought a sandwich from home and buy a soup to cut down on costs.

4) Hit the supermarket deli instead of a restaurant--on my "discerning foodie" days, I often went to the local Whole Foods instead of a restaurant. Food is obviously not as gourmet, but whether the food is hot or cold, it's actually pretty good, and a bit cheaper.



This was a hectic weekend. Sunday was the only day I had to run errands. I had 2 things in mind: I needed to figure out some proper form of packaging for a necklace I designed for a fundraising event (more on that on another day), and I wanted to find a housewarming gift for a friend who just bought a house. I succeeded in neither, even though I ran around to many different stores. At least I got to engage in a bit of retail therapy, after the horrendous weeks that just passed.

While I was at Target, I picked up this messenger bag for $5:

[Papaya beater, vintage scarf, Joie denim jacket, Louis Verdad red pinstripe pants, Xhilaration messenger bag]

The messenger bag I got from the YakPak random pack last winter didn't have an enclosure, which makes the bag less secure and less usable. Even though the crackling faux leather of this cheap Target bag may slough off eventually, the design is perfect--zippered pockets in the front hold the little things, while there's plenty of room inside for my laptop and a book or two. The main compartment snaps closed, so I won't have to worry about things falling out. The best part is that the bag has both a detachable shoulder strap and a handle so that I can hold it whichever way I want. Also, the bag is soft, unwieldy, and almost glam enough (from the crackling shiny surface) that I can carry it when I go out for social occasions. I also picked up a bamboo steamer (for organizing clutter) from the 2 for $5 area, some Sally Hansen nail polish for half off, and lip balm. Sadly, the $1 Spot didn't have cute jewelry boxes of the size I needed. I think I might end up using one that I've bought from Target and still in pristine condition...since I've already spent money making the necklace, I don't necessarily want to spend more on the packaging, even though presentation is important.

I also noticed that there's new Merona suiting for men. I have no idea whether this is really a new thing, or if I just never noticed. I also wonder if they're any good; seems like Target is going after the fashionable males now that they've seemed to master the design and marketing of cheap clothes for women. The ties looked pretty sharp. On the casual side, the messenger bags looked pretty cool.

When I was at Marshall's, the home goods section was nice but a bit expensive for what the goods were. This is what I ended up buying from the store:

I've been wanting a Tara Jarmon for Target top that looks similar to this, but this Nine West top is probably much better in quality, and much cheaper too ($15). This is such a staple piece...I can see myself wearing it even 10 years from now.

My last stop was Ross, where the home goods are cheaper but the selection was more limited and picked over. In the end I bought a basket for my bathroom but nothing for my friend. Grr...it can be so hard to shop for other people sometimes.

Adrenaline Days (Part 1): It Takes Planning

Now that you've read the storyboard for my based-on-a-true-story real-time series, "27," let's get to the reason I wrote it. No, I'm not out to become rich and famous. For all I know, "27" isn't something that anyone would want to watch. Too stressful, no explosions, no fun.

My mini-diary is completely uncharacteristic with respect to this blog, but it's an illustration of hurdles that busy women face every day. The busier we are, the harder it is to save money. Since it takes time to do things such as cooking, sometimes we're forced to pay someone else to do it. If we're not careful, costs can add up real quickly. I should know--it's happened to me in these last couple of months. I was really surprised by the amount of money I spent on eating out and buying coffee. However, as soon as I realized the problem, I tried to mitigate the damage.

I have great admiration for one of my closest friends. During the semi-annual busy season, which officially ends today (congrats, girl!), she had to work 6-7 days a week, 12 hours or more a day, functioning on 4-5 hours of sleep each day over a 2-month period. Here I am whining about not getting enough sleep and having too much to do when she has it so much tougher. Through it all, she manages keep her life in order. Her apartment is neat as a pin, while mine was utter chaos. That's because she's a master planner. Long before her day off, she figures out what she'll do with it. Even when she wasn't in busy season, she had a very demanding schedule and had little time to cook. She would plan out what to cook and how much so that she can pack and freeze enough healthy meals to last x number of days...definitely saves time and money because she wouldn't have to eat out.

For most of us, there are normal work days, then there are busier-than-usual days that are already marked on the calendar. Sadly, knowing when those days are, we also need to prepare for our days off. Yes, I know that days off are meant to be relaxing, and having a structured day off is an oxymoron, but it's gotta be done if you don't want your busy days to get even busier. I get in trouble a lot because I leave my off days for an open-ended amount of R&R, and not enough time for chores (kinda like this weekend). With an unstructured day like that, I end up getting stressed out when I suddenly realize toward the end of the weekend that I should have taken care of something (why else am I still awake at 2 in the morning?). I'm not saying that we need to stick to a schedule, but at least have a good idea of what needs to be done (such as cooking), and just get it over with. Whenever I do that, I feel so much better. Besides, this "structured weekend" thing is usually temporary.

Earlier I mentioned how big problem on busy days is food. Eating out is expensive, but it's not like we have time for full-on meals. Sure, we can cook ahead, but sometimes we get sick of eating the same thing over and over. The food problem will be the topic next time.


A Day in the Life of Not Jack Bauer: Part 2

OK, I was obviously delusion when I wrote part 1 this morning. I decided to change the titles and stuff a bit. After I got a chance to sleep, I feel better now. Back to where I left off.

7:00am--I tried to log in to the registraton system, but I forgot the password. Next thing I knew, I was locked out of the system for 30 minutes. It was really agonizing to wait. I tried to continue with my paper, but that was useless. I was just too tired and high strung, and it was too early in the morning, for me to scream or cry. As it turns out, the mattress is a pretty good safe place to pound out my frustration. No risk of breaking anything.

7:30am--I figured out how to get a new temp password, but for whatever reason, cut and paste was not the way to go. I was locked out of the system yet again. Since there's not much else I could do, I tried to take the time to do stuff around the house and started to blog.

8:06am--by the time I finally managed to get in, the class I wanted was already full. I'm number 12 on the waitlist. At least I got all my other classes, but the one I'm waitlisted on was the one I really need to get into. Why does this have to happen to me in my last semester ever? After logging off, I finished this morning's post.

8:20am--went back to writing my paper. I got 9 pages done.

10:30am--finally finished the paper. Ended up being 12 pages. Checked things over. Dealt with more editorial emails.

11:30am--turned the paper in electronically. Finally, bedtime!

I guess you can say the chance to sleep ends my day...wow, it was a long one.

Probably none of this makes any sense as to why it's relevant to what this blog usually covers, but I'll extract the moral of the story next time.

A Day in the Life of Not Jack Bauer: Part 1

My name is not Jack Bauer. I'm not a federal agent, but today is the longest day in my life.


OK, so I'm not tough as nails as Jack Bauer, or even a female version at that, but I've been hanging tough for the past 23 hours of being awake. I don't anticipate going to sleep anytime soon because my paper isn't done yet. My plan was to stay awake working long enough until class registration started at 7am. But guess what? I've been locked out of the system because I couldn't remember my password. The lockout is for 30 minutes, but for whatever reason, my second try wasn't successful either. So while all the classes are filling up in the past hour, through no fault of my own, I can only sit here and tear my hair out. So that I won't scream maniacally, I decided to write something down.

Today's been a bad day, but I was able to survive so far. This is the start of a miniseries on how to live on a student budget and have enough sanity left to deal with the craziness of school. I learned a lot of lessons today on saving time and money, though some of it was in retrospect.

Thursday, 9am--after being up all night working on my paper and dealing with editorial issues (with school stuff), I woke up not feeling so great. Good think I had some extra strength Tylenol around. Sometimes it's a waste to stock up the first aid kit, but if nothing else, have band-aids and over-the-counter painkillers. To prevent the whole expensive bottle from going bad when exposed to fluctuating conditions, not to mention saving space in your purse, just carry one or two on the go in a small container.

Thursday, 10am--I'm late, I'm late, I'm late! Got no time to pack a real lunch, so what to do? I've been eating out way too much lately and need to save money. A hunk of bread is always good to have around. Brought that with me so that I can buy a dinky cup of soup from the school cafeteria for $2 and still make a full meal out of it.

Thursday, noon--even though I could use my lunch to read, I knew that I need to have a break. Yes, it hasn't been long since I started my day, but I knew that it would be a really, really long day ahead. Even after we get out of bed, it takes a few hours for our brains to truly wake up. If I spend my time to eat and do nothing else--not answering email, not surfing the web, not otherwise multitasking--at least I'll have a small moment of peace and enjoy being awake. It's always important to have a short moment to yourself without interruption. Savor it. It won't last long, but makes you feel ready for the world.

Thursday, 12:30pm--sure enough that moment of peace didn't last long. The editorial problems I've been having finally made me blow my top, as yet another piece of bad news rolled in on my inbox. Gosh, people, be responsible! Have a small way of letting it out--not too over the top because it'll look--scratch that, make that "is"--embarassing and immature, but when you bottle it up on a day that you know will be hell, it'll only fester. Just let it out, get it over with, move on.

Thursday, 3pm--got out of class, realized that I had to rearrange my schedule because I realized that I no longer want to practice a specific area of law, hence no point in taking that class. Yes, it's a really big decision for me, I had to make it on the longest day in my life, and I had to do it unceremoniously quickly. Registration is 7am on Friday, I have to spend all night writing a paper, have to pick a new class and take care of business now. Had to convey my displeasure at one person responsible for the editorial drama. Couldn't yell, but had to do it professionally. Gotta have a sense of humor so that you won't come across as a b-----, but need to know when to be serious so that people get it. Tough balance, but I think I got my point across.

Thursday, 4pm--free food and booze for a big social. I'm there for the food, since I can't have the booze. Need to be sober to write a good paper, ya know! No time to cook...

Thursday, 4:30pm--went back for seconds with friends who haven't eaten all day. If there's free food, may as well make it dinner. Dealt with more editorial drama somewhere in between. Had to wait for a while, but by 5:30, I was quite full and headed home.

Thursday, 6-7:30pm--quite a blur. All I knew was that I wasn't feeling so well. Sat in bed and read.

Thursday, 8pm--went out to Starbucks to get a venti green tea latte. I didn't want a dinky cup of coffee made w/double espresso that costs an arm and a leg. I wanted to stay awake without the jitteriness. Besides, the green tea latte was a far better deal: I get the right amount of buzz, it tastes great, and it'll last me for hours.

Thursday, 8:15pm--got down to do serious work

Friday, 2:30am--moved from my desk to bed so that I can work more comfortably. Got less than half my paper done.

Friday, 4:00am--finally finished that venti green tea latte. Told you that it'll last a while.

Friday, 7:00am--the registration meltdown...

To be continued...


How Discounters Became Trendy

Even though my 15-page paper is due on Friday, I'm feeling tired, maybe a little sick, and no sense of urgency at all to finish, even after ingesting a ton of caffeine. Usually the caffeine drives me into a go-go-go mode and I get things done. Ironically, when TV is a distraction for some people, I was quite productive while the ALCS was on. Somehow the dull moments in sports became beneficial white noise.

Here's to my last moment of slackerdom before a 48-hour, sleepless push for the finish:

Just when I said Kmart has fallen behind in the race to look trendy, this article came out. It explains how Wal-Mart and Target suddenly (that is, over the last couple of years) became the places to go for affordable and fashionable clothes. Maybe one day the same can be said for Kmart, though I suspect it'll take a while.


How NOT to get rich, part 2

One of my earliest posts was on how NOT to get rich by attempting to catch money flying around on the freeway. Here's another one: don't write a book about your job if you know it's going to get you in trouble. Blogging about the workplace anonymously is dangerous enough, and when your name is plastered on printed volumes that are readily available at the bookstore near you, you're just asking for it. This one is mainly for my lawyer friends out there, but you don't need to take Ethical Lawyering to know that it's a stupid career move.

If the link expires by the time you get to read this, here's the low down: a California prosecutor got disqualified in a drug-and-rape trial. Why? Because she was accused of using the case to promote her novel, which has a plot too similar for comfort. Lawyers in the private sector have to follow certain rules before writing their books, and government lawyers are held to an even higher standard.

The drama is kinda entertaining, but needless to say, the court was not amused.


Quick and Clean

Correction from my last post: not that it matters much, but the red kimono top is actually by a label call Pink Dice. It's apparently sold only in small, expensive boutiques and occasionally on eBay. Good stuff, unlike the other brand. Now on to today's post...

Here at "Hot Off the Sales Rack," you'll find ways to save. Saving isn't about just money, but also time, sanity, and the environment. Here are a couple of quick ones that I needed to get out of my head:

1) Since I've been so busy lately, I've neglected to clean my house. I finally couldn't stand the sight of my room and decided to spend an hour cleaning things up. Boy, what a difference it makes. I felt a whole lot happier and so much more refreshed. I'm surprised by the power of visual cues have over my psyche. If that's what it takes to become productive on studying or doing paperwork, then clean. That said, limit yourself to an hour, because cleaning can easily become an excuse to procrastinate.

2) My many trips to Target also resulted in many plastic bags. I usually save plastic bags from my shopping trips, but I've accumulated so many that I had to start throwing the old ones out. However, I'd never throw out Target bags for a couple of reasons: 1) they're sturdier than the standard grocery store bag; 2) they're huge. I use them for wastepaper baskets. Large bags from Ikea and Ross are also good to have in case I run out of large trash bags.

3) Here's some "toilet humor" in a different sense (you've been warned): cleaning the bathroom is not fun, but it has to be done. This applies particularly to the toilet (for obvious reasons). If you're really pressed for time and don't want to scrub, wait until it's time to shower. Coat the toilet bowl with the cleaner, hop into the shower, get out, and flush. No need to scrub, but it's long enough for the chemicals to do the job and not quite long enough such that you'd forget about the toilet after walking off. However, make sure your bathroom is well-ventilated, since chlorine vapors can't be good for you. For regular maintenance, do it once a week or every 2 weeks.


One for you, one for me; one for you, one for me...

My family has delegated me the task of buying 2 birthday presents. Darn, that means I have to go shopping *evil grin*.

The birthday party for family members 1 and 2 is tomorrow, and since I didn't have any time earlier this week, I had to go today. Late last night I got the Daily Candy weekend guide, and lo and behold, there was a listing for a sample sale in Downtown LA today. I figured that I can get some trendy, higher-end things at an affordable price. If possible, I might even get a head start on Christmas shopping...after all, Christmas is only 2 months away.

The sample sale was for clothing from a number of designers, such as Lily McNeal, Mimo, Woo, Park Vogel, and a smattering from a bunch of other designers--some I've heard of, some I haven't. When I got there, the showroom was already a-buzzin' with shoppers. Despite everyone's raves about how great the Lily McNeal sweaters are, I didn't find them all that special for the price they were sold for (starting at $40). Dresses from Mimo and others were $40 and up. $40 is obviously out of my price range, so I pawed through the many boxes of clothes still in shrinkwraps, looking for the $10 gems.

The two people I had to get gifts for have very different body types. #1 is very similar to me, so buying clothes for her is easy--if it fits me, it'll fit her. #2 is more of a pear shape, probably a size 8-10. After a couple of hours of digging and trying things on, here's what I found.

For #2:

I thought most of the things by Garçon had a terrible fit (fitted at the shoulders, really loose at the bottom), so I'd stay away from that brand in the future. In the course of digging through boxes, I found this pretty kimono top by Pink Dice. It's actually a large, but it looks like it fits me well because it ties in the back (and I scrunched it up as much as possible). I figured that a kimono top is flattering and the fit doesn't have to be as exacting. The color is beautiful, the fabric is soft, and it drapes well. At $10, it's even cheaper than the blue kimono top I got for myself over the weekend.

For #1, the decision was harder, but only because I liked the piece for myself:

I picked up this Park Vogel sheer hoodie for #1 because she does yoga and the last time I got her a pair of cute workout pants, she loved them. The fabric is incredibly soft, and the lightness is perfect for the California weather, especially on days when it's cool enough for a cover-up but not quite cold enough for something heavier. At first I had no qualms about giving it up, but that's before I walked into Express on my way home and saw this:

I thought this would be more versatile and cuter for her, since she prefers dark colors. It was a good deal for $7.99. I like this too, but not enough to keep it for myself. Since I found this, I've decided to keep the hoodie.

I also bought another item for myself at the sample sale:

The color, stripes, and cute little pocket combine for a nice twist on a basic. I went up a size because they are very fitted, and I want something a little loose for a change. While $10 is not bad for a hoodie, it seems to be quite a bit for a t-shirt. However, this one is incredibly soft as well, and it's not something you see everyday. The price is justified by the quality. Now I know why Park Vogel items are so expensive; when I was at the Planet Lulu sale earlier in the year, they were $20-25 and that was considered "cheap." I didn't think so. I can handle $10 a lot better.

Ah, the "one for you, and one for me" thing...I made fun of that shopping practice, and now I'm the butt of my own joke. I failed miserably at trying to not buy things for myself. Maybe the paycheck I just got had something to do with it. Bad girl...=P

On a different note, I think my Hotkiss cargo shorts are the most versatile pair of bottoms ever. They go very well with 4 very different outfits! Maybe that's a sign I should stop buying pants because I really don't need more of them.

I got a 15-page appellate brief due next Friday, among other things, so my next (normal) post will have to wait a week. [Ed.: Oh, screw it, knowing me I'll probably procrastinate and have to write something anyhow.] In the meantime, enjoy the beautiful Fall weather!


Papaya Lovin'

Papaya is one of my favorite mall clothing stores because it's less hectic and oftentimes less expensive than Forever 21. The clothes are just adorable, and the clearance racks (especially the accessories section) are always full of goodies. It's a worthy adversary that broke my temporary no-shopping ban.

My mission has been to look for tops that are work-appropriate, and I snagged a couple this weekend. What I found is acceptable at the place where I've been working and for casual Fridays at some other firm in the future.

[Papaya tie-neck sleeveless top, Issac Mizrahi for Target cardigan, Louis Verdad pants w/red pinstripes (eBay), really old pair of shoes from Payless]

The red rose print gives a nice punch to a black outfit. The bow is tied at the side of the neck (I like asymmetry). If I work at a more conservative office, I would save this for a Friday and pair it with a black blazer or under a pullover sweater.

I like how the material looks expensive when it was only $10. I bought another top from Papaya made from the same fabric; even though it was abused by the washing machine because I was lazy and stupid, that top still holds together well enough to be worn at least a few more times. There's no way I'll throw this new top into the machine and get it shredded like the other one, that's for sure.

[Papaya kimono top, American Eagle cami, necklace of my own design, Juicy Couture jeans (samples), Payless shoes]

Kimono tops are so popular these days, but I wanted a piece that's different from everything that are out there. To avoid looking preggo, the empire waist had to be flatter on me. When I came across this top, I thought it was perfect. I love the color, the fabric was stretchy and soft, the fit is fabulous, and the fabric drapes just the way I like it. On top of that, the balloon sleeves are different from the other kimono sweaters out there. Since it's made of 100% rayon, I'll have to be careful and wash it by hand (I learned my lesson).

I think this kimono top is wearable for work if I layer it over a v-neck shell (instead of a cami) and throw a black blazer or high-collared jacket on top. Certain attributes make this top very classy: the fabric has that conservative color, nice sheen, and delightful draping.

Even though I usually eschew buying things that require hand washing, these two tops are worth it. The former is very easy to wash and dry, while the latter is pretty and low-maintenance enough such that I won't grumble about the extra work. Handwashing will cut down on pilling, thereby keeping the kimono top deceptively expensive-looking. Since the blue is so dark, it is unlikely that stains will show up, which means I can cut down on the wash time.

On a different note, these are my new $7 Payless flats, purchased in the same mall where Papaya was located. I wanted a pair of casual flats that are not ballet slippers, and these fit the bill. The color is an interesting burnt orange, and the loose woven portion looks exquisite. I could do without the embroidered flowers, but they're hardly noticeable, and I begrudgingly admit that they're kinda cute, too. Gotta love Payless!


Same Star, More Bucks

Starbucks is expensive to begin with, and now their prices are going up for not-so-great coffee. Grumble grumble...

I was studying at Starbucks today when I overheard the manager's speech to the troops. At that particular branch, and probably at all others, the price was going up by a nickel. They took the signs down, cleaned the plastic, and swapped in new price lists. Apparently the management expected that some customers would be disgruntled. As such, a bucket of nickels will be available to make up for that increase if those said customers raise a big stink about it...not sure how it works exactly.

To protect you from "additional ingredients" that might be blended in with your Java, I suggest that you don't become one of those prissy, difficult customers. If you're really mad, take your business elsewhere. I think Coffee Bean and Peet's are better anyway. I only went to Starbucks today because it was the closest coffee house to where I was.

One coffee house that I've started to frequent is It's A Grind. Their coffee is pretty good and is a bit cheaper than the other big chains. I've been quite satisfied except for the time they charged me 50 cents for water; I learned from my roommate that they only do that for people who come off the street requesting water (I've seen 2 people do that on my last trip), and if I'm already buying coffee there, I should challenge the charge next time. Even that doesn't deter me from going back. I like the music selection, the friendly service (they often bring your food/coffee right to your table), comfortable seating, lots of electric plugs, and free wireless Internet--all in all a great environment for studying. A majority of patrons I've encountered were also students. Even the clientele is friendly--I've struck up a few friendly conversations with strangers, which was nice given the fact that I usually spend 4-6 hours there at a time.

Unfortunately, the chain is a franchise and there aren't very many locations. If there's one near you, maybe it's worth a try.


Stores That You Wouldn't be Caught Dead In: Give Them a Chance!

I didn't get much done this weekend because of family gatherings (and spending 2 hours at the grocery store...no, I kid you not. That parking lot was craaaazy!), which means I have very limited time to get caught up with my insane school workload. I'll wax philosophical tonight while I still have the time. Later this week you'll get to read a "fluff" post of things I bought today (so much for my shopping ban).

Kmart was much maligned for mismanagement and the utter lack of style, the ugly stepchild of bargain chains. That's probably why it went into bankruptcy. If I recall correctly, things have gotten better since then; the Martha Stewart collection is a big reason why the chain is still breathing today. The Kmart in my neck of the woods is now cleaner and much better organized, but some of the old problems remain. The people who run Kmart appear to be either clueless about fashion trends or they do a very bad job interpreting them. Even their Basic Edition basics are unappealing; the fit just isn't right, and the prints are ugly. With the younger age set, I think the only redeeming qualities are the Thalia Sodi and Route 66 labels. Joe Boxer? Meh. Dickies? Not impressive.

As bad as things are, Kmart is a saving grace for people like my parents, who often can't afford to buy clothes from trendier (and more expensive) places. Even as I rant about how bad Kmart is, I have to admit that I've found some pretty good deals there, and they've remained in my closet for years and years. There's a shirtdress my mom bought for me more than 10 years ago. Then there's a rugby shirt that I picked out from a rack for $4, something that I still wear regularly year after year. Then there's a pair of Thomas McAn leather loafers--for all that it lacks in looks, it compensated with a surprising level comfort and sturdiness. There has to be more items, but I can't remember them all.

The point is, we've all got stores that we swore we wouldn't be caught dead in because the styles are so awful. If you've scored some good deals there once upon a time, the store doesn't smell, and it isn't all that decrepit, maybe it's time to give it another chance. Things might have improved since your last visit. Even if you can't find things for yourself, you might be able to find some for others. Even if the general state of the store is negative, there might be a few highlights you can exploit.

The styles offered by Kmart are far from hip, but at least they're trying. Nowadays, there are some pretty decent wrap dresses and career wear for women in their 30's to 50's. I haven't been able to find anything for myself recently, but I did find stuff that were perfect for my mom (I would never pass off ugly stuff to her). There's nothing better than a nice blouse that only costs $4. My dad one-upped me: last night my parents came home with at least 10 dress shirts for him at $1.50 each. Since he wears those to work all the time, it doesn't matter if the shirts are identical and nothing special.

All in all, I think the strengths of Kmart are in the housewares (especially the Martha Stewart ones), careerwear for men and women, and the Thalia Sodi label. The accessories are hit and miss. Everything else pretty much sucks.

What's your Kmart story? Is there another store where you've had a similar experience? What did you find when you went back for a visit?