Online Shopping Sans Credit Card

Since January is no credit card month, it pretty much means that online shopping is out for me. According to the authorities, online shopping should only be done with credit cards. Debit cards, while they function like regular credit cards, aren’t as well protected. Frankly, I don’t need some crazy hacker finding me online and draining my (already pitiful) bank account. At least with a credit card, the banks will refund your money, and your rating is not damaged if you are hacked.

Anyway, I’m starting to consider what being credit card free for a month actually means. As the Discountess, I’m not supposed to be doing a ton of online shopping anyway. However, there are certain things that I order online because their cheaper. Best example is my favorite, drugstore.com, who offers all of my products at a fraction of the cost in CVS.

I certainly can’t give that up for an entire month!! So I decided to research which online retail outlets offer payment through PayPal. I assume most of you know what PayPal is, but in case you’ve been living abroad (or under a rock) for the past few years, I will explain. PayPal is an online payment service that allows you to securely transfer money from a checking account to pay for goods online. You can also use it to send or receive payments from people.

Thankfully, PayPal payment is an option at drugstore.com. Here are some other retailers that offer PayPal as a payment option. This is where I’ll be shopping for the next month.

(this one is new – THANK GOD!)

(Also a welcome surprise)

(YESSSSS!)

(check out Land’s End Canvas for some cute, reasonably priced clothes)

 

 

 

This month may not turn out as badly as I thought!

 

New Years Resolutions – It’s Go Time!

Well it’s New Years time, so that means resolution time. Obviously, my big resolution is to save some serious dough this year. But, in order to do that I have some other smaller resolutions that need to happen. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

1. I will not buy anymore lip gloss. I own 30. That’s plenty.

2. I will not buy any more black shirts. The entire third drawer of my dresser is filled with black shirts. I wear a lot of black. I’m not goth or anything, they just always seem to work  I’m pretty sure I own more than 10, so that should be enough to keep me for the year.

3. I will not buy any more purses, without getting rid of one first. I have quite a few, and they all look good. I don’t need any more.  I’m giving myself a small out because I do own some that are a little old. If I consigned them, then I feel I can get a new one. But, I only can do this if they go to a loving home.

So far this has all been about buying things (a big weakness for me), but there are more resolutions below.

4. I will make, stick to, and report on my budget every month. This is going to be a hard one since unexpected expenses pop up at every turn, but I’m going to give it the good old college try.

5. I will have more dinner parties (on a budget). I love to cook for my friends. It’s a great excuse to try new recipes (and clean my apartment on a regular basis). I can host a dinner for 4 that costs the same as 1 dinner out for me, so I think it’s a wise resolution.

6. I will continue learning how to master the grocery store. I’m getting better (thanks to the Safeway’s Just For U program), but I still have a way to go to consistently meet my monthly goal of $150 – $200 on groceries and not feel deprived.

6. I will try at least one new (free and/or discount) thing to do in D.C. a month. I’m starting right away on this one. My first event is tonight! I’m headed to the Phillips after 5 to see an exhibit with a friend (cost $12). I’ve also been curious about the free movie series at the Georgetown Library.

In addition to these yearlong resolutions, I’ve decided to also set monthly goals for myself. If I make it through the month and meet my goal then I get a treat. My January resolution is to go through the month interest free, i.e. without using my credit card AT ALL. I have some money saved up to cover any unforeseen expenses, just in case. Things that I’m tackling this month include a baby shower, a weekend with friends at the Boars Head Inn in Charlottesville (including a massage – don’t be dumb), and a trip to the aforementioned J.Crew outlet in Lynchburg, VA. Eeek! We’ll see if I can make it out and still meet my goals!

How am I doing so far? Do you think I have gone crazy? I am totally in the market for any resolution recommendations you might have for me as well, so send them on if you have them!

Splurge vs. Save – Blowout Results

Weeellll, my bright idea was only marginally bright. All-in-all Bubbles did a great job. I sailed in a few minutes before my appointment and was seated on time with a nice, knowledgeable stylist. We decided on loose curls/waves for my doo. I actually have wavy hair, and having seen my stylist at DryBar blow dry beach waves into my hair, I figured it was easy to do.

However, my stylist took a different approach. She dried my hair first with a round brush, and then when I asked for more waves, she broke out the curling iron. What I didn’t realize was that a full treatment with the curling iron was $10 extra! So my nice cheap blow out became a $41 proposition. What do you think? Was it worth the extra dough?

blowout

Add my more expensive blow out to my impromptu manicure that I got just before the appointment, and it turned out to be rather an expensive day. Not the best way to end my inaugural year as the Discountess. Eek!

I guess the silver lining of all this is that I’m smarter now about how to get an inexpensive blow out. I still think it’s a good idea, as long as you know the right questions to ask. If Bubbles isn’t close to you, here are some other area salons that do blowouts on the cheap:

Aveda Institute in Chinatown – For a level 2 (Level 2 means a more experienced student), the cost is $20. It wouldn’t have worked for my Monday New Year’s party because they’re only open from Thursday to Saturday, but for a regular weekend on the town it would work like a charm.

Paul Mitchell Salon School in Tysons – For all you Virginia readers, this is a good option in your hood. A phase two student blow out will only cost you $15!

The Hair Cuttery on Connecticut Avenue (just below R Street) – Here you will have an actual qualified professional do your hair for $18.

Got a good option not listed above? Let me know, and I’ll give them a shot!

Splurge vs. Save – Blowouts

With New Years Eve almost upon us, I have been thinking about what I’m going to wear. Due to my reckless spending during December, I need to shop in my closet for my outfit (which makes me feel totally lame). BUT, everyone wants to look good on New Years, so I decided to treat myself to a blow out before my night on the town.

My darling brother gave me a gift certificate to DryBar for Christmas – the new blow out salon in DC. I visited the DryBar in New York during my last visit, and it was quite the experience. For $40, you got bottomless champagne, a shampoo, and a blow out. I paid $10 extra dollars to my stylist to rub my head for 10 minutes. I HIGHLY recommend this. In fact, I would wash my own hair and show up there just to have them massage my scalp. It was awesome.

Unfortunately, all of their appointments are booked for new years (and at $40 a pop, my pre-gift certificate self was not in a hurry to make an appointment). So I’ve been looking for a low-cost alternative.

Enter Bubbles Salon.

It’s about a 4 block walk from my office, and according to their website, they will do a shampoo and blow dry for $25. They say that cost depends on how long and thick your hair is, but my shoulder length blond locks shouldn’t put me in a higher price bracket. Of course, there is no champagne and no head rub, but I’m hoping that I will still get a fuss-free blow out that will make my old outfit on New Years look like new.

I have an appointment tomorrow after work. Best case scenario, I get a great look for my New Year’s party. Worst case it goes up in a bun for the evening. I’ll let you know how it goes!

 

Total Christmas Present Domination

Despite the fact that I wasn’t tracking my overall spending this past month, I did track how much I spent on Christmas gifts. I LOVE gift giving. Love it. It’s the ultimate rush to be the best Santa on the block. However, when faced with the prospect of gift giving on a budget, one can often feel like this.

I didn’t want my Discountessness to get in the way of being Santa numero uno this year, so I had to get creative. Mainly, I had to figure out how to buy the same amount of stuff without spending as much money. A tall order, but somehow I managed to do it! Here is how I achieved total Christmas domination.

1. Buy early, buy often. In past years, I have been a late-term present buyer. This usually means an 11th hour trip to Target and TJ Maxx for nonsensical items to stuff stockings and up to the last-minute online shopping with enormous rush shipping charges. This year, I made an effort to space out my purchases by starting to shop in November. The extra time allowed me to shop around and get the best prices.

2. Investigate alternatives. Our family sends gift suggestions each year to help facilitate the purchasing process. (In fact, we are supposed to stop buying gifts for ourselves in October to help bolster the list, but this is harder for me than it is for the rest of the bunch.  I did try harder this year, but, mind you, I set a very low bar for myself.)  Often, the suggested gifts are from the higher-end (read: pricier) stores, but with a little research you can find the same items at a better price at other places. For example, my mother’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook was $15 cheaper at Costco than it was in the store.  Price comparison sites like ShopStyle and Google Shopping are very helpful for this!

3. When all else fails, look for a coupon online. I have sung the praises of RetailMeNot.com before, and I will sing them again (along with Coupons.com and others). Even if you have to shop at that high-end store to get that ah-ma-zing gift, you can often find a coupon code for a certain percentage off. If you can’t get any money off, there is usually a way to get free shipping. It’s definitely worth a quick internet search.

So after trying all of that, I was able to complete my Christmas shopping on time and with some extra dollars in the bank. In fact, after a side-by-side original price vs. Discountess price comparison, I was able to save 29% off of the original Christmas price tally just by being careful, researching, and starting early. It definitely took more work, but in the end, having a few extra Andrew Jackson’s in my pocket was 100% worth it.

 

Mechanical Mastermind – Car Repair 101

You would not BELIEVE what the Discountess did today. Earlier week, when I was driving to a holiday party, one of my headlights went out. Cars are always wonderful until they saddle you with an unexpected expense. Thankfully, a headlight change is rather minor, but it’s still money that I’d rather spend on something else.

I started thinking that I could go to an auto parts store to buy the light and that would help cut out the cost. When I was doing my research, I came across all of these blogs where people explained how to changed the bulb themselves. Every single one said that all you had to do was pop out the bulb to replace it. Well, I can pop out a bulb. I mean, ANYONE can pop out a bulb. So arming myself with my owner’s manual, I headed to Advance Auto Parts in Arlington where I met Christian, store manager by day and mechanical hero by night. He helped me find my bulb and some gloves (apparently you can’t handle a halogen bulb with bare hands – who knew?), and then he graciously agreed to supervise me while I replaced the bulb in my car.

While I’m currently considering myself a car genius, I must admit I would not have been able to figure this out with out Super Christian. I couldn’t even figure out how to pop the hood of the car. BAD. Once we got the hood open, we located the bulb that was out. See that little grey thing below, that’s what I had to open up to replace it.

Insidecar

Then, I unscrewed the grey thing, popped the old bulb out (see, I knew I could do it), and screwed the new one back in. This is the bulb.

bulb

It was a lot smaller than I imagined. I was thinking that I’d have to take out the full light, blinker and all, but not the case!

Of course, I’m making this sound easier than it was. There was something weird about the way to screw it back in, so that took a while, but eventually I got it. Christian was with me the whole way (thank God!).

Summary details:

Time spent: 20 minutes (plus 15 to drive to VA)
Total cost: $16.88, including the bulb and the gloves. Woo hoo!
Total cost if I did it the lazy man’s way:  $ 39.95 plus tax*
*According to the Exxon near my house that would have changed the bulb in my pre-Discountess days

Total Savings (Estimating 5.95% tax in DC): $25.45

Watch out world, I am now a fiscal and mechanical genius (well still working on the fiscal genius part, but this is progress!).

Splurge vs. Save – Hair Care

 vs. 

I just ran out of my Moroccan oil. A friend of mine turned me onto using it about a year ago. I love the effect. It makes my hair shiny, smooth, and really, really soft. BUT, it costs $35+ a bottle. Granted it takes several months to get through a bottle, but that’s still pricey.

So I went in search of an alternative and found Organix Penetrating Moroccan Argan Oil (Light) for $7.99 on my favorite website, drugstore.com. I always, always check the reviews. If it’s cheaper, but doesn’t do the right job then you are still out $8. Luckily, this stuff has a 5 star rating on the site and very good feedback. I decided to give it a whirl.

I’ve now been using it for 5 days. My hair looks and feels the same as it did with the more expensive stuff.  It doesn’t really have a strong smell, which I like. Sometimes the cheaper versions of products are downright stinky, but this is nice and light.

I’m definitely the kind of person who is a sucker for advertising. If you tell me that using gold-plated shampoo will help me look like Gisele Bundchen, then I’ll try it.  But this little experiment has taught me 2 things:

  1. Absolutely no one can tell what kind of shampoo or hair products you use. Whether they cost $50 or $5, it is entirely undetectable.
  2. I’ve been wasting my money on expensive hair stuff for years, and I still don’t look like Gisele. DAMN.

Time to give up that ghost…

Discount Gifts for Dudes

A friend of mine asked me for some advice on some Discountess-friendly Christmas gift ideas for her brother. I happen to have one of those, so I felt uniquely positioned to take on the task. In my case, my brother is extremely organized, so he put together a comprehensive (and I mean COMPREHENSIVE) list of suggestions. I’m using those to guide this post with a few extras, courtesy of yours truly.

Here are my two Discountess ground rules for holiday shopping success:

  1. When buying anything, ANYTHING online, I look for a coupon. My favorite site is RetailMeNot – they offer coupon codes and discounts for major and not-so-major retailers. At the very least, you usually can score free shipping, but lots of times they have codes for a certain percentage off your order. They aren’t the only site though – Coupons.com also has good deals for example – so it’s most thorough to Google the name of the store to find the best deal (e.g. Brooks Brothers Coupon).
  2. When looking for a specific item, I always search other sites. Yes, you can get that Calphalon 12” frying pan from Williams Sonoma, but Belk.com has is $10 cheaper (AND if you use the discount code 91441864, you can get 25% off that!).

Now, on to the ideas. Here are some of the things that I’d recommend, plus coupon codes where appropriate.

For the Meat-Eater

Nothing says man better than grilling with bacon. These bacon wrapped sirloin steaks are fabulous and thoughtful. If the guy can grill, then this is a great gift and only $49.99.

For the Traveling Man

A colleague told me about the Eagle Creek Pack It. He got one and uses it all the time for traveling. It’s one of those things you never knew you needed. Originally priced – $30.00 on EagleCreek.com, but I purchased one for my uncle from BackCountryEdge.com for 2/3 the price – $20.95 plus shipping.

For the Intellectual (and/or Car Enthusiasts)

Magazines! I personally love magazines. They are the gift that keeps on giving. My brother loves Washingtonian Magazine, so that’s always a solid Christmas bet for him. Living social has a deal right now for a year subscription for $14. I got one for my office holiday gift exchange – there is a $15 limit on our gift, so this works perfectly!

For the non-Washingtonians and for Washington style-makers, adventure-seekers, and car enthusiasts, Living Social has another deal for EsquirePopular MechanicsRoad & Track, or Car and Driver at $5 a subscription (oh and ladies, that $5 rate applies to a whole host of awesome magazines for us as well – Elle, Elle Décor, Glamour, Marie Claire, etc).

For the Athlete

Work out gear is always a good idea. In particular, my brother requested something like this long-sleeved tech shirt. According to RetailMeNot, you can get free shipping with the following code: AFPTTG.

(This one was a lob to my mom, who is in charge of stuffing my brothers stocking this year).

Any other Discountesses out there with good gift ideas for men? Please comment – I’m all ears!

Mastering CyberMonday

It was a black, Black Friday for me.  I spent most of the day on the train returning home from my thanksgiving in Connecticut, and OF COURSE, the internet was not working. My plans to shop online (for Christmas presents, that is) during the trip home were completely foiled. Thankfully CyberMonday is tomorrow, and there are plenty of deals still to be had.

Here are a few that I’ve discovered today during my preparations.

Kate Spade Cyber Sale
My aunt asked for the Kate Spade perfume for Christmas.  Whaddaya know – they had a gift set on super sale! Done and done. They also had some pretty cute purses and shoes, but I’m not supposed to be buying those so I stayed away.

JCrew Sale
I’m always a sucker for a good JCrew sale as well. You can get 25% off your entire online order, plus free shipping on orders over $150 using the code: COLOR25.

Lands End Canvas
They’ve really stepped it up a notch at Land’s End, especially with their Canvas line. I’d highly recommend you check it out.

GAP
30% off your total order on Gap.com using this code: CYBER

SPANX
Free shipping on Spanx.com using this code: FREESHIP12. Spanx are a holiday staple – less as gifts and more as a way to keep your clothes fitting until new years.

This is just a sampling of deals. You can find more at www.CyberMonday.com. They have a full roster of participating stores – everything from Horchow and Lillian Vernon (who knew that still existed!) to Sephora and Target.

May the discount force be with you. Happy shopping!

Dinner and the Theater on a Dime

Every year for my mom’s birthday, my brother and I try to do something special for her. In recent years, we’ve taken her to dinner and to the theater. She never gets to go otherwise, so it’s a pretty perfect gift for her. This year, we got tickets to see My Fair Lady at the Arena Stage. The show was fabulous. It’s always so cool to see a performance in that format, and they did an excellent job.

Dinner and the theater can be pretty pricey, but I co-opted my brother into helping me discount our evening. He got the tickets on Goldstar. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a great service that allows you to get discounts on area shows and events.

Instead of going out to a pricey restaurant, I hosted dinner for us at my house. My mom loves a pretty table, so I took extra time to make a lovely setting for her. I polished the silver (not my strong suit!), got out the nice linens, and bought flowers for a centerpiece.

Our menu was the following:

Hors d’oeuvre: Bucheron Sevre Belle (Goat Cheese), Onion Jam, and Crackers

Main CourseJeffrey’s Roast Chicken from the Barefoot Contessa – Highly recommend this. It’s easy, delicious, and inexpensive.
Cauliflower Puree
Green Salad with goat cheese, dried cranberries and sherry shallot vinaigrette

Dessert: Apple crisp with vanilla ice cream

Wine: Silver Oak (Note: I purchased this during my non-discountess days and was looking for a special occasion to drink it. At $75/bottle, it’s not a go-to discount wine, but it is delicious. It’s like wine-butter. Mmmmm.)

Total bill to serve mom a special dinner at home: $64.86 (split with my brother, it became $32.43 a piece).

Compared with a $100+ bill from a nice restaurant, I think that’s not too shabby! Plus, I think my mom enjoyed eating at home more. She gets a kick out of seeing us entertain. And because of her, we were able to learn from a master!