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Archive | July, 2011

An Update: Suzuki’s Response

28 Jul

A couple posts ago I ranted about my car issues, and told you I was writing a letter to the top three people at Suzuki. Well, the letters were received. I also called customer service because they wouldn’t cover a rental car due to the fact that the powertrain warranty covered the engine. Well, a representative called me today and said they would cover the rental. Too little too late: I called the extended warranty company earlier this week and was told they would cover the rental. Back to the Suzuki rep today. I told her I thought the car was a lemon and the whole car should be replaced–today they were still taking apart the engine to diagnose the problem! So, customer service rep Heather said Suzuki would offer to make one car payment for me. But I told her that I wasn’t asking for a new car just to get a new car; I’m concerned that this car is defective and that after this, there will just be another problem and it will be back in the shop every few months. So now they’re offering to make two months worth of car payments. That to me is an admission of guilt. I said I would think about it. If they don’t give me a replacement, I at least want a lifetime warranty for ANY repairs–and three months of car payments. What do you think I should do? Just take the money and run or ask for more. Tweet me at @SamiLiebman and let me know what you think.

The Accidental Bargain

26 Jul

I think I’m just getting lucky these days. It seems I am saving money all over the place. My 100 calorie sandwich flats were on sale today at Target, reduced from $2.44 to $2.24. I made money at Jamba Juice the other day. They didn’t tell me when I ordered that they were out of the milk-and-Splenda mix for the Strawberry Nirvana. I went to pay at the checkout line (this Jamba Juice is in a Whole Foods). When I returned, that’s when one member of the staff told me they couldn’t make it. They made some other concoction (with more calories than I wanted). Then I walked over to customer service and told them what happened. I didn’t have the receipt because you have to give it up to prove you paid when you receive the drink. So the woman gave me $4 and change. I said I paid less than that, but she told me to just keep it for the trouble. Ask and you shall receive! That should really be the tagline of this blog. But I digress.

Some time ago I started receiving invitations to free movie screenings–for movies that have yet to be released. I haven’t participated (I think I can’t because I’m in the media industry), but maybe some of you can. I must have bought tickets at MovieTickets.com at some point. And its CEO Joel Cohen tells me that the screening program is part of being a member. However, there is a very small catch.

“The screenings are free of charge, but they are often research screenings,” says Cohen. “So, if you decide to attend a screening, you are sometimes asked to complete a brief survey giving your opinions on the movie you just saw.”

But you could have a say in the final product when it is released, according
to Cohen.

“During the screening, the attendees sometimes have opportunities to share opinions on many aspects of the movie, such as alternate endings, character development and special effects,” he says.

If this interests you, visit MovieTickets.com and register for free. The screenings I’ve been invited to have been Wednesday nights in various location. They are not nationwide just yet, but are in the New York metropolitan area.

A Freebie on Madison Avenue

25 Jul

Last week I wrote about New York City’s affordable versions of Madison Avenue, but it turns out that the designer-lined street just may be affordable after all!

I went into Barneys the other day to shop for a bridal shower gift for a friend. I thought they may have these satin lingerie bags you can put your unmentionables in when you travel. It turns out, Barneys doesn’t carry them. But the saleswoman told me they have other bags–I’d describe them as dust bags for lingerie–that were for items they didn’t have in stock at the moment. And she said they never use them; in fact, they throw them away.

She took them out, and they were these beautiful Missoni drawstring bags. Surprisingly, she said I could take two–for FREE!

So there you go: I got my own set of Missoni lingerie bags. And for my friend: A Jonathan Adler fondue set–at a very good price (I won’t say here just in case she reads this).

Another Alternative to the Group Coupon

23 Jul

A couple of posts ago I mentioned Lifebooker, which not only offers group coupons–now otherwise known as “Groupons”–but also deep discounts on salon and spa appointments without having to front the money (look for the review of my $31.50 haircut in the next few days). Well, Scoutmob is another site that doesn’t make you lay out money, yet offers discounts, mostly to bars and restaurants (and sometimes stores and salons; today’s was for 50% off up to $150 at Charles Nolan).

How it works: Scoutmob sends out its daily coupon (I recommend subscribing). You have a limited time to click and get the deal. Then you enter your e-mail address or have it texted to your phone and, voila: 50% off at the business of the day. There’s also an app for Android and iPhone (see above).

The fine print: Of course there are some restrictions; they can’t be combined with other offers and they do expire. And there is also a limit to the dollar amount of the discount. So if your bill is $100 and the coupon is for 50% off, yet the maximum discount is $30, you’re only going to get $30 off–better than nothing!

Scoutmob is not offering coupons for Daniel or Per Se, but the selections are pretty good. And they’re not limited to Manhattan. Some personal favorites have been Essex (not Beauty & Essex) and Beacon.

Scoutmob started in Atlanta and is available in 13 major cities, including Austin, Texas; Nashville, Tennessee, and Denver, with seven more to come.

And a note to any men reading: Don’t use one on a first date!

Save Money and Time: Don’t Buy a Suzuki! (Or Write a Letter)

21 Jul

Today’s post is more of a vent, but it is also a cautionary tale. I spent most of the day at my car dealership. I own a 2006 Suzuki Grand Vitara 4×4 with about 36,000 miles. And I should have known it was going to be a lemon when, not even a year after I got it, the transmission failed. It was a new car! Since then, the belt, radio and power sockets had to be replaced, wires corroded (and that isn’t covered under warranty; cost almost $400 between parts and labor) and the back door has had to be adjusted every so often. Now, my whole engine may have to be replaced. Not to mention the slightest touch of the bumper causes it to crack. An SUV should be durable. Suzuki may have “America’s Best Warranty” for a reason: You’ll need it. I’d say all the time wasted, waiting while my car has been repaired over five years would total at least a week. SUZUKIS AREN’T A BARGAIN.

Now, when things like this happen, make sure you have every repair documented. Why? Because this is when you write a letter to the top three or four officers at the company, in addition to customer service. Write a polite letter, tell them that many friends and family recommended the product (doesn’t have to be a car; it could be a service) and say you are going to tell them not to bother buying the product anymore. I, as a journalist and now a blogger, have even more leverage: bad publicity.

But you have leverage if, at the bottom of your letter, you CC every consumer news journalist in your area (Arnold Diaz on Fox 5 or Nina Pineda on Eyewitness News, to name a couple). Let those company bigwigs know you mean business.  Remember the documentation and be polite (I know a lot of my friends are going to laugh when reading this). Make sure you’re clear, sound reasonable and check your grammar and spelling!

By simply writing letters, I’ve gotten hundreds of dollars in airline travel and food vouchers, a free lifetime membership for Hertz #1 Club Gold, free months of gym memberships and free hotel stays or upgrades. Don’t underestimate the power of the pen (or keyboard).

I would take a couple of extra dollars to send your letters with signature confirmation. I’m sure I will have a positive update to share with you soon.

If you have a letter-writing success story to share, Tweet me @SamiLiebman.

Ask and You Shall Receive (Or Simply Threaten to Switch)

19 Jul

You may not be able to do much about the rent being too damn high (cliché, yes, but I couldn’t resist a Jimmy McMillan reference), but you can do something about the cost of your cell phone, cable and Internet service. I recently had a problem with my phone. I have T-Mobile‘s HotSpot @Home, which for $10 allows you unlimited calls, texts, etc., through your Wi-Fi or any Wi-Fi connection (Starbucks included; I got it because I have no reception in my apartment). But for some reason my phone wasn’t connecting properly and I ended up going over my minutes. When I called, T-Mobile agreed to wipe out the overage and give me an extra 200 anytime minutes for the remainder of the billing cycle. But when I checked my statement the following week, I found the charges were still there. I called back and, to my surprise, T-Mobile offered me a new plan: unlimited everything for about $3 less than what I was currently paying. It even included the HotSpot service. Plus, the representative backdated it to include the last billing cycling, so I ended up saving on my last bill! (Disclaimer: You must agree to a new two-year contract.)

That’s only my first anecdote: I recently had to downgrade my cable plan. And, to my surprise, a basic package for one television with DVR plus Internet was about $120, including tax. And I didn’t even get OWN (I’m embarrassed to say that I’m loving Ryan and Tatum: The O’Neals–guilty pleasure), among other channels I enjoy. So–you guessed it–I called. I asked the representative why it was so expensive. After all, if I were a new customer
I could get the $99 “Triple Play” that included phone service for an initial period (and that is one way to go). However, I didn’t get an answer. So, I threatened
to cancel and switch to
FiOS. (If you live in an
area with FiOS, your cable provider does not want
to hear that.) Well, they
said they’d transfer me to a “retention specialist.” Bottom line: When you call, just ask for a representative and ask them to transfer you to a retention specialist. Tell them what you want and what you’re willing to pay for it. They will bend over backwards to make it happen. That specialist upgraded my Internet speed, upgraded my plan to include the higher tier of channels and added three months of free DVR service. He even backdated it. Now I’m paying less than I was before. Plus, he told me to call back in a few months to ask if there are any other promotions.

So, if simply calling and asking doesn’t work, just threaten to switch providers. I even got a free phone upgrade in August using that method.

If you have a money-saving suggestion, Tweet me @SamiLiebman.

The Early Bird Catches the…. Oyster

18 Jul

Courtesy: The Mermaid Inn

Last month, a group of us took one of my best friends out for her birthday to a personal favorite, The Mermaid Inn on Second Avenue in Manhattan. I hadn’t been in a while and didn’t know about its
Happy Hour and a Half.” If you can get off work early (or want to start your Saturday night early; it’s offered Monday through Saturday from 5:30 pm to 7 pm and Sunday from 5 pm to 7 pm),
I highly suggest taking advantage of it. If you love seafood–especially oysters–and alcohol like I do, it’s an amazing bargain. Dollar East Coast
oysters, $7 specialty cocktails, $6 wine and $5 draft beer plus $8 lobster sliders and $6 lollipop chicken wings are just some of the items on the menu. And
that’s not the only deal The Mermaid Inn offers. For lobster fans, Sunday night
is Lobsterpalooza: a pound and a 1/4 lobster, corn on the cob, red bliss potatoes and coleslaw for $24 all night. I have yet to try it, but if anyone does before me, let me know how it is. Plus…. if you follow the restaurant on Twitter or like its Facebook page, you’ll be able to get a password every Monday that will entitle you to a 20% discount off your total bill that night (unfortunately, it cannot be combined with other deals). The specials also are good at the Upper West Side location as well as The Mermaid Oyster Bar in the Village. The Mermaid Inn, 96 Second Avenue, (212) 674-5870; 568 Amsterdam Avenue, (212) 799-7400; The Mermaid Oyster Bar, 79 MacDougal Street, (212) 260-0100.

An Update: Lifebooker Is Now In Two More Cities!

17 Jul

Thanks to a Bloggains reader, Lauren, who informed me in a comment that Lifebooker has now launched in San Francisco and Chicago!

Thank you, Lauren!

NYC’s Affordable Versions of Madison Avenue

16 Jul

S. Klein in Union Square looking east c. 1983 (Thanks to Dan Larson for the photo)

Ok, they’re hardly high-end, but there are areas of the city where I’ve always found great deals on some stylish items, although it does depend what you’re looking for and how discerning an eye you have. Some of those places include Fulton Street in Brooklyn, 125th Street, West 34th Street and 14th Street/Union Square–even lower Broadway around one of my personal favorites, Century 21–in Manhattan, the area of Queens Boulevard around the Long Island Expressway on the border of Rego Park and Elmhurst, and Fordham Road in the Bronx. Being a Manhattan native who grew up near Union Square, I still gravitate to 14th Street. And how it has changed! When I was younger, Zeckendorf Towers was a boarded up S. Klein (above). The building that now is home to a Whole Foods, Filiene’s Basement, DSW and Forever 21 was Mays Department Store and Union Square Park was a needle park.

Anyway, back to the present day. I used to buy tons of jewelry in the Flatiron District at those wholesale places (the more you buy, the greater the discount). Now that same concept has spread to other areas, including 14th Street. For example: Gem Story on West 14th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. I admit, I wouldn’t wear a lot of the inventory, but there are simple items you can pick up that will go with anything. I bought two sizes of these black bracelets (below) for $2.99 each. Of course they’re plastic; no one has to know they’re not Bakelite or a more expensive material.

I also discovered a place a couple of doors down, Fashion Express. You can only try on over your clothes, but they do accept exchanges (FYI: The sizes run small). As you can see in the picture below, they have some cute short and long strapless jumpers, which are $10.99 and $11.99 respectively. That’s better than Forever 21. I bought this rayon one (left). The shorts are gathered at the bottom.

And I couldn’t believe it when Nordstrom Rack opened on 14th Street! What a great addition. I’ve only shopped there once–the location in the Bergen Town Center (another great spot if you have a car) in New Jersey. In early March, I scored a pair of leather wedge sandals (right) for,
drum roll, please: $29.99 (a 70% mark down).

Those are just a few picks. But if you’re going for “the look for less” thing, you can’t go wrong shopping in any of these areas.

Lifebooker: The Groupon for the Things You Need

15 Jul

I was going to discuss what I did with the money I made on eBay, but there’s something I think is much more useful. Next week, I’m getting a wash, haircut and blowout for $31.50 plus tax (original price: $69). And after that, I’m getting a Brazilian wax for about $10. How? You may have heard of Groupon, Living Social, Bloomspot, BuyWithMe, UrbanDaddy, Thrillist, Gilt City and even Refinery29, all of which offer either “exclusive” sales or group coupons that require you to lay out money to get, let’s say, one I bought once was $15 for $30 worth of food and drink at Amber Sushi. And it seems there’s a new site every day! They do have great deals, even offering amazing vacation packages. But they seem to come up when you don’t need them or can’t lay out the money no matter how good the deal, right? Or there are so many restrictions, it isn’t worth it. And they’re usually for things we wouldn’t normally spend money on, but the deal seems to good to pass up! Well, I bet you haven’t heard of Lifebooker. Unfortunately, it’s only in New York and Los Angeles. Not only does Lifebooker offer what it calls “Loot” (its version of the group coupon), but you can book appointments at hundreds of salons around New York City (and Los Angeles) for any grooming need imaginable, including injectables and laser treatments, without laying out money in advance. The $10 Brazilian was from Loot that offered three sessions for $29. The hair appointment I just booked online through the site; you just need to hold it with a credit card. It was actually $34.50 plus tax, but I had $3 in rewards from reviewing the other places I’ve booked appointments at or bought Loot for.  I’m not going to mention the salon that I’m going to just yet (I’ll let you know what I think after the appointment), but I didn’t pick it because the price was the lowest–the lowest price was $22.50. This is why completing a review is so important; the place I picked had 65 positive reviews.  And who knows, the salon you already go could be on the site. When you book, you can even request specific stylists or aestheticians. The Loot seems mostly to be for health and beauty essentials (at least I think they are) like personal trainers, boot camps and gym memberships; facials, massages, hair (including Keratin treatments, color and Japanese straightening), laser treatments (including hair removal), injectables  and…. you get the point. Sometimes there are even offers for home cleaning and organization services. For women, this is much more practical than a prix fixe dinner for two at a fancy restaurant; isn’t that what men are for? Visit Lifebooker by clicking here.