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Last week, I went to my local mall for the first time in many months (or was it years?). As I strolled around, taking in the sights and the bustle of our consumerist Mecca, I couldn’t help but notice all the sales I saw advertised at every major clothing retailer. JCrew and Anthropologie had multiple racks with deeply discounted items. Brooks Brothers and Macy’s had a 40% and 25% sale on every piece of clothing in the store, respectively (yes this is exactly how I shop, I take notes of discounts for future blog post that will never be written). The more I walked the more I realized that there were considerable “sales” all around me.

But the widespread nature of the sales does not mean that all clothing items were reduced or that customers were bound to walk away with discounted purchases without exerting too much effort. In fact, it was the contrary. Although stores were quick to advertise their sales in posters and entranceway signage, an actual examination of these stores revealed that there were still plenty of items priced just as high as ever. The differences between a full and half-priced item seemed to be minimal and random. In some stores, all lingerie was heavily discounted while jackets remained at full price. In others, some jackets would be surprisingly cheap while others were shockingly expensive.  The funny thing is that there’s some real science behind the arrangement of stores, from packaging, visual of placements, to eye tracking technology, even if it all seems maddening random and chaotic at times.

Of course, sometimes you come across weird gaps in thinking at certain stores. At Gap, for example, the price for a pair of blue jeans ranged from $9.99 (on sale) to $170 (full price). The two pairs of jeans at the edges of this spectrum both looked nice, both fit well, and both were labeled with relatively reputable brands. But there was a full $160 difference between the two. Pretty ridiculous. I personally wouldn’t cough up $170 for a pair of jeans – especially if a similar $10 pair could be found only several racks down. If someone frequently buys their clothes at this pacing, they’ll probably need a title loan to cover that difference.

This is all to say that the frugal shopper really has little reason to buy items at full price these days, because there’s always a “sales” around the corner or a 50% off sign somewhere, and the problem is that a good number of times, these sales signs are a mix-bag in terms of savings. The fact is, as long as you plan ahead (and are willing to buy winter clothes during the spring), willing to buy online, don’t need to own the absolute latest styles, and have some flexibility with your purchase preferences (i.e., you don’t leave for the mall thinking “I must get a red suit jacket today”), then there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to focus on the actual savings and ignore the “sales” that are meant to play with your mind.

 Relevant Reading:

As I uttered the line above to my friend, her eyes widen in disbelief.

“What do you mean you don’t need money?”

“Well, uh, you know,” I stammered, suddenly realized how stupid I sounded. “I make an okay amount of money on the side, I don’t think I really need a full time job right now.”

She shook her head in utter annoyance.

It’s been about an hour since we started the discussion about how I can at times be a flake, never committing 100% to school or work.

“You need to commit to one or the other,” the infinitely more matured friend told me. “You should just get a full-time job right now and better your working habits.”

Somewhere along the conversation, I clamor out the now forever brilliant line.

“I don’t need to get a job. I don’t need the money!”

In retrospect, this was probably another moment where I showcased my occasional twisted value system to my friend.

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About a month or two ago as the tax income forms started flying in via snail mail, I downloaded my free tax software from Turbo Tax and began the annual 3-month long process of filing my taxes. As I sat by my desk and dug through mounds of ancient unopened envelopes, I suddenly noticed something incredibly odd about the Excel sheet on my computer screen.

One.. two… three… four… and five.

Odd. That’s five digits.

I blinked and counted again.

No mistake.  For the month of March 2009, I made a little bit over $10,000.

“Wow. Now if only I make that much every month,” I thought to myself. “I’ll be able to sit back, relax, scratch my butt, and be a baller.”

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I don’t usually eat out (since I have no friends to eat with — haha), but when I do eat out, I generally try to be a fair tipper. Although there were plenty of times where I’ll ponder about how 15% became the standard gratuity amount, I usually just leave the 15% unless there was terrible service (and of course, more than 15% if the service was excellent).

The fact of the matter is, in the United States, many wait staffs rely on tips as their main income source — despite the fact that many people feels that a “minimum” tip standard has shifted the responsibility of paying wages from restaurant employers to customers. Depending on your region, culture, and background, you may find tipping to be a ridiculous notion or a fair custom.

Most restaurants will have a mandatory “gratuity” charge for a large party (6 or more etc.), and certain restaurants will have straight-up forced gratuity (eesh). On one hand, I can understand that dealing with a large party can certainly be bitch work; after all, you’re tending to more demands and needs — but on the other hand, its hardly considered gratuity when its mandatory (maybe all restaurants should just label them clearly as a large-party service charge instead of a gratuity charge).

To add more spices to the mix, a couple in Bethlema, PA, was recently arrested by the police because they refused to pay the mandatory tip for their party of six. Now before you think the two are complete cheapskate, apparently the party had to wait an hour for their table, and received next-to-nothing services during dinner. Some people might think its a bit trivial for the couple to get all huffed-up about a 18% gratuity that totaled $16, but I’m on the camp that thinks the restaurant owner is being silly to call the police over a $16 tip.

What do you think? Much ado about nothing? Are mandatory gratuity an abomination? Or are they a necessary component to ensure waiting staffs gets their due pay for their services?

photo credit: Vidiot.

It was about three o’ clock in the afternoon when I heard it.  The sounds of tires screeching on pavement accompanied by a blaring popping noise that sounded like an extremely loud car engine backfiring.  I crawled up to my bedroom window, peeked out through the curtains and saw a car doing an extremely dangerously U-turn with a passenger literally riding “shotgun.”  As the passenger held a shotgun in one hand and leaned out the passenger window, the car semi-lost control and rammed into the “Welcome to Santa Ana”  city sign.  Eventually, the car regain control and immediately sped off down the street.

I was about fourteen years-old, and it was at that moment that I realized that I’m living in a not-so-safe neighborhood.  Drive-by shootings were not exactly an oddity in the area,  but seeing it in person in the afternoon instead of hearing it at the wee hours during the night was definitely a game changer.

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Whew.

So my sister just got married recently and my immediate family just had our first (and by the looks of things, probably last) wedding.  The entire event went by smoothly enough, with me walking my sister down the aisle without incident. Yay. (Allthough the toast I gave sucked, thankfully I kept the speech as short as possible).

A couple of weeks before the wedding, I got curious on how much money people usually spend or give for a wedding, so I did a quick search online.

Turns out, giving money for a wedding is a bit tacky for certain parts of the country (obviously, for some culture it is entirely appropriate to give money for a wedding).

Allow me to elaborate. For my area, Southern California, I was under the impression that the unspoken rule is that if you give money, you should at least give an amount greater or equal to the cost per head for the reception.

But apparently the cost per invited guest guideline is considered tasteless in many area of the country according to various threads I read on the net (Metafilter, Yelp, iVillage, etc.)

For people that felt the above guideline is tasteless, I certainly understand their views that the entire ordeal can be made to feel like a quid pro quo  — something gift giving should never really be.  But many others in the discussion threads also argue that the cost of a wedding, especially in the Tri-State area, warrants guest giving at least the per cost amount (including whatever guest they bring along).

So what’s the money wedding gift giving etiquette in your area?  Is it tacky to give money?  What about having the rule of thumb that you should at least cover the cost per head?

Regardless of the money issue, I personally believe that you should give (money or not) whatever you’re comfortable with giving in relation to how close you are with the couple.  When in doubt, there’s always the wedding registry!

photo credit: digiyesica

I think I’ve reached a new status in being a denizen of the web — I’ll be heading up north to the Bay Area for a few days, and a fellow blogger, SVB of The Digerati Life, has been gracious enough to let me crash at her place.

I’m sure her kids will love this abrupt visit from an online stranger.  I’ve been told by my mom that I’m super awesome and good with kids, so everything should be super spiffy.

This reminds me of the trip I took last year when I went to Houston via Amtrak (for kicks and giggles). While waiting at the barren Houston Amtrak station for my friend to pick me up, I started up a conversation with a family waiting for a cab.

“So is this your first time in Houston?” asked the nice lady with two boys and one girl.

“Oh no, I’ve been here before when I visited family.”

“Oh so you’re visiting your family again?”

“Actually no, I’m visiting my friend.” I told her nonchalantly, “I hope I can recognize her.”

“That’s very sweet of you. Has it been awhile since you guys have hung out?”

“Um… actually I’ve never met her before.  She’s a friend that I met from the Internet.” I told the nice lady as she noticeably shifted one of her kid away from me.

Momentarily of silence later…

“Oh don’t worry. I’ve talked to her for years — on the phone too.  I’m fairly sure she’s real and I won’t be robbed or murdered.”

Still some moments of silence…

“And it’s not what you think.  This isn’t one of those visit.”  I continued, “I’m staying at her boyfriend’s house, who was kind enough to offer me a night in his spare bedroom.”

“What was that?” I asked, “Oh, um… no, I’ve never met him before too…”

Sign of the times, I guess.  A few years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined myself making friends or working with people online.  Now I’m seeking lodging from fellow bloggers.

Zomg! Welcome to the 21st century?  Still not brave enough for CouchSurfing.com though.

Probably opening up a can of worms to a classic debate… but the question popped into my mind again while reading Madame X’s latest posting on the subject at My Open Wallet.

It’s a tough question because it brings up all sorts of issues on equality, feminism, and independence.

Personally, call me old-fashion, but I still have a certain drive to foot the bill when the check comes. My reasoning? It’s mostly because I’m the one begging asking for the night out.

Am I a sucker perfect for targets by “gold diggers?” Probably not, since driving a Honda Civic doesn’t exactly scream baller.  And the fact of the matter is, most people should be able to spot a less than genuine intention.

And this goes both ways too, of course. If you’re the guy and you’re paying the bill for silly reasonings, other than simply wanting to treat someone out, it’ll come across as pretty obvious.

At the end, I also believe that the entire thing can be a moot point as long as both party is on the same page when it comes to the matter.  As long as there aren’t any strange strings attached, it shouldn’t be an issue whether the guy or the girl pays for the bill — first date or not.

What’s your take?

creative commons top photo credit: fortinbras

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