Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Ethics of Frugality - My Take

Since the last post didn't gather enough votes for survey, I am not going to derive any results from your comments. However this is how I feel about them.

>> 1) Printing personal stuff on the office printer

Well this is a moral grey area. But I do tend to print out air tickets, maps etc. But using it for anything more than 10 pages is cheap.

>> 2) Taking office stationery or pens home

Again cheap. But I am guilty of having some office pens, post it notes etc in my bag. This in itself is cheap, but taking thinks like staplers is really super cheap.

>> 3) Buying clothes at Walmart or thrift/second hand clothing stores

No. I could never do this. Walmart clothes are cheap, but they look and feel cheap too. I have heard horror stories of people returning clothes after wearing them and I really don't know if Walmart just places them back on the shelves.

>> 4) Driving without the ac on on a hot day to save gas

Well, this isn't ethically wrong and in fact anything to save gas is a good thing. But again, I don't think I could do this, coz I am a brat and I love my comforts :-)

>> 5) Taking home sugar or ketchup packets, tissues, plastic cutlery etc home from a fast food joint.

Cheap! But I have been guilty of this a couple of times. Sometimes when I am on a long road trip, I do take tissues to the car. And once when we ran out of sugar at home, I took some sugar packets from the campus coffee shop. (In my defense I don't have a car and the nearest supermarket is 2 miles away)

>> 6) Tipping less than 15% or even not tipping

Super duper cheap. But I have noticed a lot of desis doing this. 15% is the minimum tip to leave. It is not a generous tip, but it's a decent one. 20% is righteous. I tip between 15-20% on all times. As should you all. Waiters really depend on the tip for survival, they are paid minimum wage or even lesser in most establishments.

>> 7) Sharing a refill drink

Ewww again. This is so not cool.

>> 8) Sneaking soda and snacks into the movie theatre

Well this isn't very cool either, but I have been guilty of this a couple of times and would really like to do more of this. But these people charge $4 for a small glass of soda. $4 can buy a 12 can pack at the grocery store. I mean I pay $6 for my movie ticket! Move theatre popcorn is of course sacrosanct. Everyone knows a movie is not a movie without popcorn!

>> 9) Insist on separate checks when going out on a group

Well, I guess there is nothing wrong in doing this. I have borne the brunt of this many times (being the vegtarian, non drinker of the group). But I never feel like asking for separate checks. Of course I will happily take advantage if someone else suggests them :-)

>> 10) Cutting coupons and shopping at 3 different stores for monthly groceries

A smart, wise move! I don't do this right now, but I certainly hope to do this once I am married and have my own home. (Imagine me wearing an apron and cutting aprons. I feel all housewife-y :-) )

So there you go gentle readers. I've done my part. You guys go and have a fun weekend.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Money Money Money

A while ago, I was researching about the good savings accounts to save all the loose change I have and as I was doing that, I came across a lot of good personal finance blogs. I noticed a lot of tips and practices that were being discussed and I would like to know how it applies to Indians. I like to save money as much as the other man, but I want to be smart not cheap and I don't realise where frugal fits in.

I have a list of situations below and I have three possible responses to each.

1) This is lousy. It's wrong immorally/legally - Skank
2) Well, I don't think it's wrong, but it's borderline - Cheap
3) Yup, that's a good one. I do it/like to do this - Smart

It would be great if you can classify each situation as Skank, Cheap or Smart. Because I want to be neutral, I am going to reserve my comments until I get good response.

1) Printing personal stuff on the office printer

2) Taking office stationery or pens home

3) Buying clothes at Walmart or thrift/second hand clothing stores

4) Driving without the ac on on a hot day to save gas

5) Taking home sugar or ketchup packets, tissues, plastic cutlery etc home from a fast food joint.

6) Tipping less than 15% or even not tipping

7) Sharing a refill drink

8) Sneaking soda and snacks into the movie theatre

9) Insist on separate checks when going out on a group

10) Cutting coupons and shopping at 3 different stores for monthly groceries

Here you are, 10 easy questions. And I would really appreciate a response guys. Please do ask these questions to your friends and it would be great to get more responses. I am not going to do a study or thesis with these results, but I think it would be fun to know what majority people like.

So answer away people!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

When life gives you lemons, make Lemon Oorkai*

Greetings my gentle readers. How are you all doing? Yes, you, you and you. After ranting in the last post, I am going to make this one a nice breezy what's-up-with-my-life kinda post.

So I started my Tennis lessons yesterday. It was fun. It's a group class and has 5 other girls. Minutes before class, when we were warming up and so, memories of tennis classes at school came hurtling across and for a minute I was very very scared. Wehn I was 8 years old, Appa enrolled me in Tennis classes thinking I would grow up to be another Steffi Graf. And I was pretty enthused about the classes too especially 'coz my parents bought me a new racquet, tennis skirt, T shirt, wrist band and such. The classes beagan innocently enough. And I was the only girl in class. Also the only one who couldn't hit the ball over the net. Who was teased incessantly. I started sleeping in late hoping Appa would let me skip class. But he was still nursing Steffi dreams and so he would bundle me up for class every single day no matter how late it was. But that was a blessing in disguise since I would be made to jog around the grounds to warm up before starting which meant missing more class time. This went on for 2 years until I had a small health problem (totally not due to tennis) and the doctor said that it mighhtt be better to skip classes for a month. I grabbed onto those words and didn't go another class. And we used the 2 tennis racquets to play cricket at home.

There have been a lot of things that I have been wanting to do lately. I really want to take art lessons. I am not very good at it, but I am not bad too. I took glass painting classes in Hyderabad (it was just one class and that female charged 1000 for that!!) and Amma tells me that people have been complimenting my work. I want to work on my swimming and atleast get back to where I was when I was in school. I told everyone that I am renting a bike and biking around Lake Monona. But very embarassingly I slept in. I should do this sometime soon to redeem my pride. :-) I also want to learn a new language and I am auditing Beginning Spanish next sem. But considering I have a couple of tough courses next sem, I might have to drop this course. I also want to write more. Ever since S got me a journal I have been trying to write more and I wrote 2 poems in the first couple of weeks. But I seem to be dry once again. Want to write more short stories too, but unable to get beyond the starting sentences. As I was looking back on old posts I find that I used to write much better than now. Perhaps it had something to do with more readership back then :-) This is all for my personal todo list.

I have taken up a netflix membership recently and I want to rave about how good it is. Netflix rules. I am currently on a 2 DVD at a time membership and they are very quick to ship the next set. I usually get the new ones the day after they receive my old ones. Which is pretty cool. And also they have the "Watch Instantly" feature that lets me watch selected movies and sitcoms on an awesome the best online video player ever. The site is minimalistic and has everything you ever need. I recently took a Blockbuster trial membership since I pass by a Blockbuster store everyday and I thought store returns may get me movies faster. But I have been very disappointed with them. Their site is too cluttered and it took me a moment to find my queue. They don't offer any online viewing. And their DVDs take twice as much time as Netflix to reach me though both have centres in Milawaukee. So its Netflix all the way (atleast till I get back to school) for me.


Monday, July 14, 2008

HSBC Direct Sucks

It all started innocently. Since I was earning a few bucks during my internship, I thought it would help if I saved a couple of dollars (especially since I won't have an on campus job to support me next sem). I suppose I could have transferred it to my Bank of America Savings acoount, but we all know money in the same account as the direct deposit one would be spent soon. So I started looking for a good savings account and found that online banks offer better interest rate. Since I didn't have a car to get by, I assumed that it would be easier to open an account online. Right? WRONG!

when I started looking for online banks, I had 2 options - HSBC Direct and ING. Since HSBC was offering 3.5% as opposed to the 3% offered by ING. Also HSBC allowed me to link how many ever accounts I wanted to the Savings account. Naturally I tried to open an account. It seemed easy enough - fill out basic details and then the trial deposits. But even after confirming my trial deposits, my account was pending - awaiting documentation. They said that they needed some form of address proof (bank statement, utility bill) and so on. Since I am now in Wisconsin, I ask my roommates to send over some utility bills. And I fax them and wait for the prescribed 48 hours, which then becomes 72 hours. So I call the Customer Service. After waiting for nearly 15 minutes (while listening to "exxccitng" new from HSBC) I reach a human. She tells me that they didn't receive the fax and ask me to resend it. By this time I am a little impatient and so I resend the fax and wait another 3 days. I get am email reminding me to send it again. I was raving mad when I picked the phone and called them. They tell me that they did receive the document, but the bill was older then 60 days (it was 63 days old) and so they cannot use it. This seems reasonable enough, but nobody told me this while opening the account. And would it have killed them to send me an email rather than wait for me to call them?? So I fax over another document that's pretty recent and send it out on the same day (last Wednesday morning). On Friday I give them a call to hear them say that they didn't receive the fax and that a specialist would call me on Monday morning 8:00 a.m. It's 10:00 a.m and no call. So I give them a call and after waiting for an eternity I am told that they didn't receive my fax. And when I complain about how it's 3 weeks now since I started to open my account, the customer rep tells me "You are not the only applicant you know"!!!

I have cancelled my application with them and opened one with ING. The experience has been pleasant and hassle free till now. I talked to a Customer Service agent before opening the account (and I got a human within 2 minutes). She was polite and assured me that they needed no documentation from me. Plus I was referred by someone and so I get a $25 referral bonus. Sweeet! And since I am not going to be saving millions, a 0.5% doesn't matter much, in fact it might be lesser than the $25 I earned. And if I things go well with my Savings account, I will open a Checking account with them and you can link as many accounts you want with that. Plus you can write checks. So it's win win win for me.

HSBC just lost themselves a loyal customer (hopefully the business of the people reading this blog too). I am not a person who chases after interest and I would have stuck to them for years.

So the moral of the story is : HSBC Stinks. And it pays to have a good Customer Support and Admin system.

P.S Wanted to write a post on something else, but HSBC irritated me so much that I had to put this up. I am usually patient with such things 'coz once you get the system rolling, you don't have to worry about other things. But they really got my goat.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Who Am I?

Of late my life seems to be changing. I am discovering a lot of new things about myself that is bang opposite to how things were earlier.

For instance chocolate. I was a chocolate lover and I used to say that out. Loudly. To everyone I met. I even had a theory that I would not go out with a guy if he didn't get me chocolate frequently. But since I came to the US, I have started moving towards peanut covered chocolates. The place I am doing my internship has an awesome pantry with hot chocolate (with marshmellows) and a well stocked candy jar. The only candy I take from there are Reese Peanut Butter Cups. And I sometimes scrap the chocolate off the top and eat just the chunky peanut butter. If I ever feel like buying chocolates outside, I buy peanut M&Ms. And I have taken to eating Vanilla ice cream, after eating ONLY chocolate ice cream (sometimes chocolate ice cream dipped in chocolate sauce) for the past 24 years. I don't seem to like chocolate so much any more. This is very distressing for me to say the least. Asking a guy to get chocolate on a date is romantic. But asking for a jar of peanut butter or Reese Peanut Butter Cups, and him watching me scrap the chocolate off and gobble the rest, is surely going to crimp my style.

It's not just chocolate. I seem to started to love shopping, even window shopping. All these years in India, I've never had an urge to shop. H had to literally drag me to shops. And even when I did go shopping, it would all be in one shop, and finished in 15 minutes - doesn't matter if I am buying a silk saree or night pajamas. In fact that used to be in USP to attract guys, that they would never have to wait outside a fitting room, carrying 15 bags, knowing there would be no dinner until shopping is done. And I used to hate jewellery of any kind. Amma had to drag me to the jewellers under false pretexes to make me buy gold. But things seem to have changed now. I seem to be shopping with a vengence now, as if to make up for all the lost years. Just yesterday I spent about $200 on clothes, accessories and other associated items. It doesn't help that I have to walk through the mall everyday to get home from the bus stop. Coming to jewelery, though I still hate yellow gold, I've discovered something wonerful called white gold - just as expensive as the yellow one,, but much prettier. And now I know why diamonds are a girl's best friend. I have about 25 new best friends now. It doesn't stop with just these. I seem to be addicted to grocery shopping as well. What used to be a chore once upon a time seems to be a magical time. I spend almost an hour on just the cereal aisle.

And there's more. Where I've sworn to never let my hair loose, I am now refusing to tie them up (thanks to a wonderful hair stylist who has convinced me I have great hair and taught me style it well. Here's a tip for all (or any) Madison woman reading my blog. Rejuvenation Spa on Mineral Point rocks, especially Jeanna for hair) I am wearing my contact lens to work on most days a week (This is an improvement, considering I used to wear them like once in 2 months when I was in India) I am hunting for a pink T shirt, where I've once laughed at H's pink salwar kameez. In fact when I was buying a tennis racquet yesterday (I am starting tennis classes next week you suckers!), when the salesman suggested a pink racquet, I almost considered it. Oh and before I forget, my bargaining and deal sniffing skills seems to have increased substancially (i.e move up from the zero that I used to be, to say 20%)

I don't know what to make of these changes. S seems to be convinced that aliens have abducted the real me and substituted it with a zestier fake. Amma is alarmed at the amount of money that I am spending (which they are sending from India for my "education") and feels that I am doing all this shopping just 'coz it isn't my money. And she want's me to lay off both chocolates and peanuts and start eating fruits instead. Appa either doesn't notice anything or if he did, is too scared to say anything. I am sure Paati will say this is the corrupting influence the West is having on me.

But I feel that I am turning into a woman. I used to be this distracted soul when it came to such matters like shopping or dressing up. So after a quarter century, my mind has grasped that I am a girl and should act and behave as one. What about the chocolate/peanut butter you ask? Well I think that's just to throw off my bf/husband and start an argument "You don't care about me" or "You've changed". Suppose he comes walking in on Valentine's day with a box of dark chocolate, I can just throw it on his face. Yeah, that sounds good.

This really is exciting news. Maybe I will soon start going "Awwwwww" when I see kids and not feel that they are a nuisance. Maybe I will even *gasp* smile indulgently when they start throwing a tantrum in the movie theatre. Well, maybe not that.

So the million people who read my blog, what's your diagnosis?

P.S1 Wanted to title this post "I am Woman, Hear Me Roar", but I was worried that I would scare away readers who think this is a real feminist post.

P.S2 Want to majorly uphaul the blog template. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

People We Hate in the Sitcoms We Love

As promised (albeit late), here is a list of people I absolutely in detest from popular sitoms (read sitcoms that I watch or watched)

Friends - This was the sitcom that had the most influence on me, the one that made me realize that I am hooked to sitcoms. Popular vote says that the most irritating person in this is Janice. But since this is my blog and all that, I say that Phoebe is the worst of the lost. She is the least unattractive, flaky and high maintenance too on top of that. I can't believe that Mike married her. So repeat after me here, "We hate Phoebe"

Everybody Loves Raymond - One of my most favoritesht sitcoms ever - I am just 3 seasons short of owning the whole series on DVD. I think I have to go with Marie on this. I know she is integral to the story and all that, but hate her. (Sometimes hate Ray too for being a wuss, but my final vote is for Marie)

Will and Grace - I had to think a bit for this one. H hates Karen Walker, but somehow I can never bring myself to hate her. The person I hate is a tie between Bobbi Adler (Grace's mother) and Tina (Will's father's mistress).

Frasier - Yet another "comfort" sitcom. Frasier never fails to cheer me up when I am down. In fact I am reading "So Far", Kelsey Grammer's autubiography right now. Ironically this is the one sitcom of which I don't own a single DVD (Hint hint ;-)). I can't think of any particular person to hate, so I am going to go with Aswin and give the title to Lilith.

Cheers - I started watching this mainly to understand the "Cheers" comments in Frasier. Ted Danson is brilliant (which is why I started watching Becker) But I am not able to choose between Diane, Carla and Cliff. All the 3 aer irritating in their own right. Since I hate permed hair, I think I am voting off Carla for having the ugliest kind of hair on top of being nasty.

Drew Cary Show - Mimi for obvious reasons. No more discussion

That 70s Show - Another hilarious show. I spent a lot of time watching this show when I should have been doing my homework. I guess that explains my GPA :-) And I like both Jackie and Eric. But I do hate Michael's brother, the Kelso who dates Donna. (I think Donna is pretty overrated, especially when she leaves Eric. But nah, don't hate her)

Three's Company - I hate Chrissy! I know all you guys like dumb but hot blondes and thats the premise for a lot of humor. But I've always felt that Chrissy was taking it too far. In fact I liked the seasons in which she was replaced with Cindy.

30 Rock - One of the best comedies that's on air right now. So it's kinda tough to find someone to hate, but I think I do hate Frank. The dumb caps, lazy drawl and slobby looks don't get any love from me.

Just Shoot Me - Another sitcom I started watching 'coz I liked one of the stars. I love David Spade and I kept watching 10 Simple Rules even after Ritter's passing just for him. But this sitcom totally failed me. I like office humor and all that, but this one was too silly to click for me. Spade was brilliant though! I think I hate the main character Maya Gallow the most. I can't stand her too thick eyebrows, hair that's not dyed from the roots and her holier-than-thou attitude. I tried for 2 seasons, but still hate her.

We are talking about sitcoms and things we hate - my two favorite topics. So I cold go on and on and on. So having my readers' well being in mind, I stop with these.

So gentle readers, I now leave you with lots of people to hate. So hate away and send me a little blog love (read comments)