Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!


I hope your day is filled with loved ones, beautiful weather, delicious food, & a little bit of doing this:
Cheers,
S

Monday, November 23, 2015

Saving $$: Smarter Smartphone Carriers



As we approach Thanksgiving and the Season-o-Shopping, here's a smart way to fatten-up your wallet.

In the Fall of 2013, many stars aligned that led me to a better path on saving money each month on my cell bill. 

First, I received a brand-spanking-new Galaxy S4 as a product test (see here for sites that offer product tests) & got to keep the phone after the testing was over.  For the past four years, I had been with At&t using iPhones & my most recent contract was finally up.  I had never used an Android phone & the Galaxy was light-years fancier than the iPhone 4 I had.  I held on to the phone & was able to easily switch over from At&t to the discount carrier Aio which then merged with Cricket Wireless

My bill went from about $85/month (& that was with an existing corporate discount I had) to $40/month.  

Win!

I loved the phone but it was big & clumsy in my small hands - so, it was no surprise when I accidentally dropped it on a tile floor at the gym.  

Fail!

I then needed to figure out whether to get it fixed or see if I could find a better phone (for me) & better deal overall.

Enter the blogosphere & the many personal finance blogs I follow:  I kept reading over & over again about two companies: Ting & Republic Wireless.  Both are mobile virtual network operators or MVNOs.

Ting lets you bring your own device (gsm or cdma networks - according to their website, that's about 80% of all phones out there) or you can buy a new or refurbished device.  Lots of phone options are available - both iPhone & Android. From there, you pick a plan size from XS - XL.  If you use less, you spend less.  Basically, you pay for what you use and nothing more.  Ting was a tempting option, but at the time (early '14), they only allowed cdma devices (At&t/Cricket = gsm) so I knew I would have to buy a new or used-new-to-me phone.

I then looked into Republic Wireless (RW):

RW is the only MVNO carrier that subsidizes the costs of their phones.  Meaning you aren't paying full retail for a new phone - with any other discount carrier, you pay for the full cost of the phone upfront (no upfront deals or paying per month for your new phone).  The only limitation is they only use Motorola phones, so if you can't imagine parting with your iPhone (& I totally get it) this carrier is not for you.   I decided to sell my cracked Galaxy via Glyde & used that money towards RW's Moto X. I love the Moto X & you can read all about it here.  I have the original version & I love that it's not a super-giant phone.

RW's model is that you run your phone as often as possible on wi-fi.  Most of us have access to lots of wi-fi, so it can be a great fit for many people.  The original monthly plan I had was for $30/month (tax included) for 3G access with unlimited text & data.  But they have recently switched up their pricing & now you are paid back for any available data you don't use each month. My bill averages $18/month.

Super-win!

They have responsive customer service (via email) & I've never had a problem.  When I'm not on wi-fi, my phone searches for nearby 3G or 4G networks (usually Sprint) & can switch back & forth without a hitch.  I have no immediate plans to change carriers anytime soon, but have been a bit tempted by the invite I got from Google for Project Fi.  It works in a similar fashion to RW but it currently only supports Google's Nexus phones.  I would love a beautiful, shiny new Nexus, but my Moto X is still going strong.

Going from $85/month to $18/month has been a huge savings - there is only one Apple app I miss on my phone (Day One - but can still use on an Ipad), besides that, my phone does everything a smartphone should do.  I will never go back to having a contract; there are too many great options out there these days.

If you'd like to learn even more  - checkout these links:

I Finally Switched To an Off-Contract Phone Plan, and It's Awesome

Republic Wireless Review

Five Best Pre-Paid Cellphone Carriers

Google Just Became a Cellphone Carrier with Project Fi 

The Cheapest Cell Phone Plan Worth Having

Happy Savings,
S
ps: when I was on the bus heading to our staff retreat a few weeks ago, the co-worker sitting next to me mentioned he uses Republic Wireless.  It was like we were long-lost-money-saving twins!  (cue the heavens parting!) Both of us sang Republic's praises - he is using their original beta-test phone & it's still works some three years later - his bill has never been more than $13/month.  Awesome!



Friday, November 20, 2015

Home Fri, Vol 4

Sometimes you just have to improvise!

We have great Rosenquist print (that my husband got years ago when he was an art handler in NYC) to hang in our living room.  The problem is it's large (see dimensions via the link), not yet framed, & will be expensive to get framed.


In our last place, I hung it with the ever versatile binder clip.  It was not the exact look we were going for, but it was fun, got the print up, & we could at least it enjoy it everyday.  Plus, I got a kick out of the fact a print called Paper Clip was hung on our wall with binder clips, somewhat appropriate, yes?  :-) But, hanging art from binder clips is not the best way to keep a piece protected - from sun, humidity, dust...life.  


So when we moved, it was rolled-up & has been rolled-up ever since. I am hoping we can get it professionally framed next year but I've been searching for some DIY alternatives like this and this too (plus it's fun!).

So here is my classy-perfect-awesome-one-of-kind solution to the blank wall we were tired of looking at:


wait for it...








Ta-Dah!


Jealous?  

Yes, I thought so.  

My husband got a huge laugh out of it.  It features a snapshot of our dog awaiting his 1st dog-sundae at the Bruster's drive-thru, a random sticker and pin I found around the house, and a photo of the Cheeseburger Taco from Taqueria del Sol (that taco, ALL their tacos are works of art!) - the taco photo was taken and sent to a friend out of state that also loves/knows said taco - these are important things in life!
And there you have it!

Cheers & Happy Friday,

S
ps:  the photos I used on the poster board are from a great app called Groovebook - you can upload 100 pics/month and for a few bucks have a book mailed to you.  

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

#stronglikeshawn

Earlier this year, my aunt Paula reached out to let us know that she and her daughters (my cousins Dawn and Shawn) and their kids would be visiting Georgia during the summer.  I was beyond excited to see them all together.  Paula and Shawn live near where I grew up in Florida, and Dawn lives near Paris in France - so it was a big, fun deal!

Although their July visit was short (they had plans to hit the mountains after seeing us), we all (I think there were 18 of us) had a cookout at my house.  I wish I had pics, but we were too busy preparing food, sharing stories, and laughing...there was lots of great laughing - the kind you can only do when you're around people you love and who have known you forever.   

The.
Best.
Kind.

It had been way too long since I had seen my cousins so all felt right in the world.  I knew this short moment together was a special time and place.


A couple of weeks later, my Mom got the call that Shawn had been diagnosed with Stage 1 or 2 breast cancer.  She would have to undergo a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and possibly radiation.


This is horrible, devastating news for anyone.  But for someone like Shawn it seemed impossible.  Shawn has been a vegetarian since she was a child; she has been an active dynamo her entire life.  As a mother of two, she's also a certified fitness instructor; her full time job is kicking people's asses in cycling, combat classes, you-name-it.  She's a great motivator/coach and if you asked me to offer up the most fit, healthiest person in my family, it would be her.  


Exhibit A: 
She went on a run recently - post surgery, after a second round of chemo - see?  Bad Ass!

So the amazing thing is, even while battling cancer, chemotherapy, and surgeries, it's still her.  She is still the healthiest and most fit person I know.  Her spirit is as strong as her muscles.  Which is saying a lot! And no matter what, that can never be taken away from her.

Her community has surrounded her with so much love and support it's been awe-inspiring.  The Go Fund Me page set-up for her exceeded its goal over and over again and is close to meeting its current one.  And the Facebook page set-up for her has been documenting her fight and keeping the support going - please follow along if you need doses of true inspiration. 


She has always been a beauty, but now I think she has even surpassed herself:




That my friends is spirit shining through and it's real beauty - the only kind that matters.


Please offer a prayer, good thought, any means of support for her, her kids, supportive boyfriend, her wonderful friends, her whole family.  We should all aspire to be #stronglikeshawn.


ps: updated - how I could I forget this pic ??? - this is all three of us way back when...
 :-)

Friday, November 13, 2015

#prayforparis

It's beyond words to see your cousin's Facebook status reflect the fact she and her family are unharmed. The fact that FB check-in's like that even exist, have to exist in this world.

She was offered tickets today to the France/Germany game (she and her family live just south of Paris) but opted out.  They watched the game at home regretting not going when the news came in.  


I am so relieved they are OK (thankful for FB/fast communication across the globe) but so heart broken for so many.  I know this post changes nothing but I am sending peace out into the world and hope it reaches the City of Light.  


I hope it reaches everyone.


Home Fri, Vol 3

I almost skipped posting this this week because of so much lack of sunlight...it's been raining for the better part of two weeks.  We are Southerners and we expect sunshine!  And with the shift in daylight savings time, it's been hard to take a decent, better-lit photo.  I promise they will get better, soon! In the meantime, please humor me if you're reading this and thank you for reading this!

Trivets!

 
As a wedding present, my Mom passed along a gift from my Godparents of these silver-plated trivets:


A bit tarnished above, but still really pretty.

I even love the vintage box!





So after being stored in their cool box for a long while and never having a huge need to use them for a dinner, I decided to polish them up - much shinier:





and hang them on our small gallery wall in the dining room.  I think they would look even better with fancier nails or knobs - maybe down the road...





I love my Godparents (seriously they are the sweetest, kindest couple on the planet and have ALWAYS been so loving and supportive of me) and I love having them on display and thinking of them often - irreplaceable.  The photo does not do them justice.  They are also in a very practical place in the house as we can take them off the wall anytime and use them as needed.


Recently, I was browsing at a local thrift store and found these trivets:




I love them both - but especially the elephant!  There were two other owl trivets and I am kinda kicking myself for not buying all of them.  If you live in Avondale Estates and grabbed them - bravo!


They were priced at $4.99 a piece and then lowered at the register by a store-wide sale.  The sweet guy that rang me up reminded me they were $4.99 a piece, not for the pair (which I was aware of and still thought they were a deal) and looked a bit disappointed at me that I was spending that much.  I appreciated him looking out for me and my wallet!


Like the silver-plated trivets, I knew I wanted to hang them up and display their cute shapes.  I decided to hang them backwards in my bedroom for some much needed jewelry space/storage.


The backs have four risers each (because they are trivets!) which I figured would work well:








Voila - pretty and very functional - a little crooked (might be my mad photo skills too... :-) but a great way to display some fun jewelry!  If I display my jewelry, I actually wear it - plus, it becomes art for you and your walls.  Now I need to find some more trivets...


Happy Friday,

S

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Weekend Away at Callaway

It's always so wonderful to look forward to events and to have some planned fun on the horizon.

Fridays are the best because of the possibilities the weekend brings: the freedom of time, upcoming plans, plans of doing nothing much, spending time with loved ones...it's a weekly gift - even if your "weekend" is a night off or any other non-traditional break (and I do hope you have one!).


This past weekend, the company I work for hosted a staff retreat. And not just for the upper-rank as I've often seen - the entire company! They even flew in folks from an out-of-state office. I am a very lucky girl to have landed in such a workplace and every day I am truly thankful (except on the days the grueling Atlanta traffic melts me - I am more than crabby those days, but overall, life is good).


So on a very overcast, rainy Friday afternoon, we boarded a bus and headed to Callaway Gardens.  I've been to Callaway before with my parents, but that was ages ago so I was looking forward to seeing it again and just to get out of my element for a bit.  I did, however, miss my guys back home. 


(I got updates on this one and he did just fine:

He has four other beds that are bigger sizes/fit him better, but he gravitates to this one at times - when he does, we refer to him as the "Stuffed Mushroom".)

We were greeted at Callaway with Welcome Bags full of treats. And that evening, we had a cocktail reception then seafood buffet dinner:

Just a "small" sampling of the selections: salmon, mashed potatoes, veggies, coconut shrimp, and she-crab soup (not shown, but it was my fave!) and lots of pies to choose from for dessert!  IMHO, we had the best/most fun table; all of us laughed so hard we cried.  No doubt I work with a lot of characters!  It was also awesome to see more reserved folks bust out of their shells - it's so cool to see your co-workers laugh and smile non-stop.

Besides the wonderful food and drink, we had live Blue Grass music:

These guys were the real deal!
I also got beat down by one of my favorite co-workers in a game of Checkers; I cannot remember the last time I played Checkers.
I was Red in case you can't tell...

Happily, the rain cleared a little overnight and Saturday morning I woke up to a bit of color:

Not a shabby Fall view from our balcony - all rooms had small balconies:

We then had a huge buffet to choose from for breakfast and then hit our company presentations.  The presentations were engaging and informative and even our CEO wanted to keep things on schedule so we could enjoy more fun.

At noon, we had boxed lunches at the ready and I retreated to my room's balcony to eat - it was the only time the entire weekend I snuck away for a little quiet.  As a true introvert, this was progress for me.  

Actually, now that I'm in my 40's, I think I am an introvert who sometimes just needs  a push and once pushed in the right direction, I go.  It is so easy for me to retreat into a book or hide away and give into the social anxiety that has plagued me forever, but I promised myself not to do so and I kept that promise!

I digress - I made the decision before hand to be as engaged as I could for the entire trip

After lunch, I had this treat awaiting me:

Reflexology at the Callaway Spa!  


I was so excited and all of us got pick an activity.  We each got to choose from a spa activity (shots above of the lobby - massages, facials, or manis/pedis), horseback riding, zip lining, hiking, golf, an animal safari, canoeing, kayaking, biking, or just doing nothing.  It was awesome.

After my spa appointment I went for a walk with my weekend-roomie and got a couple pics of the grounds.  It was still overcast, but the rain held off any everyone got to complete their outdoor activities. 


Later that evening we reconvened for a plated dinner and partied into the night with a Casino Night! I didn't get any pics because I was having way too much fun!  Remember that promise I made?

Against a background of dancing, fun loud music, and laughter, I played Black Jack for the 1st time (meh - I didn't do so well) and then wandered over to the Craps table - had a blast and won about $9,000 in chips (not real money, of course!) - I am no pro, but thanks to a co-worker, I learned the ropes and so enjoyed it!  By the end of the night, I was shooting the dice for the game - who knew!  


When the casino wrapped up, we exchanged our chips for raffle tickets.  I didn't get any of the fun prizes (prizes were given out all weekend) but again, I had so much fun and laughed so much,  I already had the prize!

Sunday morning, we had breakfast and got back on the bus.  The ride back was also fun and a little sad to see our out-of-state-peeps depart at the airport.

It was such a special weekend; you could see friendships blooming and existing friendships strengthening.  And it was a great comfort for me to be surrounded by and be a part of so many crazy-wonderful-smart-creative-full-of-life-did I mention crazy? :-) people. 

So for all of that and more - I say Thank You!

ps:


This is how we all felt Monday morning:
:-) 










Friday, November 6, 2015

Home Fri, Vol 2

In Defense of Accent Chairs:
 
We got a new chair, ya'll!  

OK, well two new chairs but I'll get to that...when I was getting married, I also had two wedding dresses - these things happen!

Seriously, it was time for a new accent chair for our living room.  We moved into our house a little over two years ago & it's been on the wish list ever since.

In the meantime, we used an IKEA classic & 
I really do like the ubiquitous IKEA POANG chair.  It's fairly comfortable & it fit our space well.  We live in a late 50's ranch & the rooms are not super huge.  I also like it's "light" & didn't weigh the room down.  

Click here for some great examples of where it kicks ass.  A dear couple we know also has it in their home & it looks perfect:


                                                   It's the coolest pad in Hoboken, NJ!


IKEA was again on the radar as a lot of their furniture fits within the confines of our space. But really because I will take any excuse to visit IKEA.  I picked this one:




It was one of the smaller options & I liked the forest-green color as it's a little different.  It fit our space perfectly & is an uber-comfortable, soft chair.  It's homey!  But, the color was too dark for our living room (we already have a charcoal gray sectional - not sure what I was thinking) & it didn't look quite right.  

So now it happily lives in the front room of the house. 

Enter Move Loot!


I first read about Move Loot on the personal finance blog Wise Bread.  And, then again hereMove Loot buys & sells used furniture.  They are in a few markets around the US & you can read more about them here.  

When this West Elm mid-century modern chair popped-up, I jumped!




And YaY! The color isn't too dark, it highlights our rug well, & it's a great size!

So here's why I will keep shopping Move Loot (& no, they didn't pay me to write this - I wish!!!):

  • You get to pick your delivery date & time on a realistic schedule.  And the time windows are not cable-company-crazy long. My chair was delivered within a week on a Saturday morning.
  • They email & remind you a few days before delivery.
  • The morning of, they sent me a text as a reminder - loved this!
  • They called ahead when they were en route & then called again when they were 10 minutes out.
  • The delivery guys were super nice.
  • The chair was in near-new condition (as listed), arrived wrapped in plastic, & included a protective cover.
  • It was a deal - $60 less than full retail & less expensive than the IKEA chair. Delivery was free!
  • No drama & the easiest furniture delivery I've ever had.
  • Overall, they provided great customer service.
They are worth checking out if you are in the market for new/new-to-you furniture.  I also love the thrill of the hunt when I open their emails; you never know what you'll find. ;-)

Cheers & Happy Friday,

S

update: Move Loot no longer exists! :-(