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All That Gas

19 Apr

I hope no one had to pay the tax man. But if you didn’t or are lucky enough to get a refund, it’s a good idea to squirrel away the money you saved or received, especially if you plan on traveling this summer. Filling up even one tank of gas is expected to make quite a dent in your wallet. While a couple of weeks ago, the Lundberg Survey, a market research firm that specializes in fuel prices, reported gas prices may have reached a peak; except for minor dips, they’ve gone up since this article in Bloomberg Business Week.

But there are several ways to help save money when it comes to gas. I sometimes drive hundreds of miles a week, luckily most of that is in New Jersey where gas prices are lower than in most places. But I am always looking for savings, from old-school ways such as properly maintaining your car and modifying (or at least trying to modify) driving habits to newer methods like incentive programs and smartphone apps.

“Every driver is impacted by the increased cost of fuel” says Cathleen Lewis, director of Public Affairs for AAA New Jersey Automobile Club. “There are several easy things drivers can do to stretch each tank of gas and find the lowest fuel prices when it is time to fill up.”

The Old School

Lewis says 17 percent of all cars have all four tires properly inflated, and a survey found only 85 percent of Americans do not properly check their tire pressure. She says, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, properly inflated tires can improve fuel economy by up to three percent. So how do you make sure your tires are properly inflated? Some gas stations have built-in gauges in their air pumps; if they don’t, you can buy one in any auto parts store for a few dollars—I even saw one in a QuickCheck. Check the tires when they’re cold, not after they’ve been driven several miles. You can usually find what the proper pressure should be on the driver’s side door jamb or in the owner’s manual.

And tires aren’t the only part of the car that may save you fuel. Proper maintenance of the whole vehicle can help. Lewis says warning lights can signal problems that can decrease a car’s fuel efficiency.

How you drive can also effect how much fuel you use. Driving the speed limit and going lightly on the pedals can help save.

“If there is a red light ahead, ease off the gas and coast up to it rather than waiting until the last second to brake,” Lewis says. “Once the light turns green, gently accelerate rather than making a quick start.”

The U.S. Department of Energy reports aggressive driving can lower a car’s fuel economy by up to 33 percent.

Another way to save is planning your errands ahead of time. If you know you have to go to the dentist, the supermarket, the gym, figure out the most efficient way of driving to them and schedule your day so you can do it all in one trip. According to AAA, several short trips starting with a cold engine each time can use twice as much gas as a longer multipurpose trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.

If you happen to pick up groceries or heavy loads on those trips, it may also be best to make that the last thing you do. The lighter your load, the less effort your car needs to move and thus the less gas will be used. So if you are driving around with a set of golf clubs, it may be best to leave them at home.

The Apps

I’ve been using GasBuddy, which tells you prices near your location—and it is free. You can choose to sort them by price or distance or see them on a map. It’s not always accurate: I saw a gas station where the price was 10-cents lower than all the others; it turned out to be closed. However, you can earn points toward free gas by updating prices at stations you do come across.

AAA has its own free app (you don’t need to be an AAA member, although I recommend it—I’ve locked myself out of my car a few times).  AAA’s TripTik has a more high-tech way of determining stations with the best prices based on credit card transactions at more than 100,000 stations nationwide. It also has the same GPS capability as GasBuddy.

Incentives

Stop & Shop, a large chain in the Northeast, allows you to earn 10-cents per gallon off your gas for every $100 you spend on certain items listed in their circular each week. You swipe your Stop & Shop rewards card before you pump and it instantly lowers the price. However, not all locations or gas stations participate, so visit Stop & Shop’s Web site for more information.

And many credit cards have programs that earn you points, even double points on gas purchases. If you redeem those points for cash, you can get some of that money back. Be careful of ones with high interest rates and annual fees. One site that can help you compare is creditcards.com. However, cash seems to be king these days—stations are charging more to pay with a credit card and sometimes the difference is so substantial, it’s best to keep some green on hand
when driving.

And with the money you may be able to save, hopefully you can enjoy better or even more vacations this summer. Happy travels!

 

Ok, I’ll Jump on the Jason Wu Bandwagon

11 Jan

I reported and was excited to hear that Jason Wu would be the next designer collab with Target. And because I was busy with my day job Tuesday, I defer to the lookbook on one of my favorite sites, as always, Racked. The clothes and bags look great and I love that everything is under $60 (one of my favorite and affordable outfits I’ve pictured here). But thanks to Pulsed, I have something you can use now. I’m not usually a coupon person, but what the heck. Jamba Juice is offering select 12 oz. and 16 oz. smoothies for $1 and $2 (plus tax) through January 19.

Meanwhile, Target currently has the Bullseye Bodega (if a real bodega had what Target has stocked, it would be a Costco). It’s not the same as the pop-ups that the retailer set up throughout New York City some time back. What it is: multipacks of everything, supersized shampoos, etc…. You get the idea. So if you don’t belong to a warehouse club, hit Target now. I even saw some infant items and kitchenware as well.

 

 

 

Eat Away!

5 Jan

One of my favorite New York events is approaching. You may now make reservations for NYC Restaurant Week Winter 2012. This is the 20th anniversary of the event, which runs from January 16 through February 10 Monday through Friday. Three-course prix fixe dinners are still $35 and lunches are $24.07 per person (which doesn’t include drink, tax and tip). There are 300 restaurants to choose from.

NYC Restaurant Week started in 1992, just in time for the Democratic National Convention and is extremely popular (it’s often extended). According to OpenTable through NYC Restaurant Week online reservations, more than 200,000 diners were seated during the 2011 summer promotion. August and the post-holiday season are typically slow times for the restaurant industry in the city; residents usually vacation during August and many are maxed out financially from the holidays in January (hopefully you aren’t and can simply enjoy the savings).

There are new restaurants this season, including Asellina, Bann, Boulud Sud, Fish Tag, HanGawi, Kibo, La Promenade de Anglais, Marble Lane and Restaurant Nippon. And among the standbys returning are Barbetta, Brasserie, Carnegie Deli, Dawat, Delmonico’s, Gotham Bar and Grill, Le Cirque, Le Perigord, Mesa Grill, The Palm Restaurant, Remi, The Russian Tea Room, Shun Lee Palace, Steak Frites, Tribeca Grill, The Water Club and Water’s Edge.

And you can save even more with a special promotion from American Express, the founding and continuing sponsor of Restaurant Week: Cardmembers will receive a $20 statement credit when they register and use any eligible American Express Card to dine out three or more times at participating restaurants during the 20-day period. To register an American Express Card and for terms and conditions, visit nycgo.com/restaurantweek.

Bon appetite!

 

Boycott the Balvenie Rare Craft Roadshow

19 Oct

Let me start this post by saying that the following in no way diminishes the value of sites like Myopenbar.com. But hopefully some of you did not receive the e-mail I did today, after RSVPing last week. It said the following:

Good afternoon, dear friend -
Thank you for your overwhelming interest in The Balvenie Rare Craft Experience Event in New York on Wednesday, October the 19th.
We are fully aware that you may have received confirmation on your RSVP prior to this email, but due to unforeseen capacity issues we will not be able to honor your original confirmation at this time, nor include you on our guestlist for the evening.
We extend our greatest apology for any inconvenience this may have caused and are extremely disappointed you will not be able to join us for this particular event. On that note, we ask that you please sign up for Warehouse 24 at www.thebalvenie.com to gain advance notice of all future events, in depth information and access to the craftsmen of The Balvenie.
-BV
 

Well, this is not how you treat the press nor bloggers, and I consider myself a member of both groups. And it’s certainly not how you treat potential customers: simply encouraging them to sign up for a Web site promoting the product without any incentive. I would like to call out the apparently inexperienced PR firm of Maloney & Fox for sending out automatic RSVP confirmations. It’s almost as bad as the Target-Missoni mishandling. I’ve dealt with many publicists and this is not how it’s done. So, it’s your prerogative to attend this event if your RSVP confirmation was not de-confirmed. But I would encourage you to send Balvenie and the amateurs at Maloney & Fox a message by not attending. But please do sign up for Myopenbar.com, because the listings there are pretty solid. I also don’t want to disparage Sons of Essex because, as I said in the previous post, I’ve only heard good things about it. There are other free and inexpensive events Wednesday; to see some of them, check out MyFreeConcert.com.

Thanks to Myopenbar.com

The Balvenie Rare Craft Roadshow (Thanks to Myopenbar.com)

15 Oct

See, signing up for the things I write about can pay off. Today I received an e-mail from Myopenbar.com for the following, which is completely complimentary (you must RSVP). I’ve also heard Sons of Essex is pretty cool, too.

Thanks to Myopenbar.com

From Joke to Open Bar

10 Oct

What Myopenbar.com founder Seva Granik says started as a joke has turned into a helpful resource (at least I think so) for New Yorkers who like to party, yet not spend their whole paycheck to do it.

“My roommate and I, we went out quite a bit in the early 2000s but didn’t have much money,” says the 36-year-old Granik. “So we sought out open bars as means to get our party on without having to pay.”

During the summer of 2005, he says he started a simple blog and an e-mail listing service around it because he was unemployed and bored.

“It blew up overnight,” Granik says.

Courtesy: Myopenbar/Hope Gangloff

And it’s no wonder why: Myopenbar provides daily listings of events, bars and clubs around the city that have open bars or deeply discounted drink specials, with details on times, covers and what’s included. For example, $6 will get you unlimited well drinks, Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) and Tater Tots Monday through Thursday from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Trash Bar in Williamsburg; Friday and Saturday nights, it’s a $7 cover. Get the idea?

So how does Granik find the listings?

“All of the content that’s up on the Web site is submitted to us,” he says. “We used to do a lot of research and sometimes even steal listings from other Web sites, but we got way lazy and now we rely entirely on what people send to us.”

While he focuses primarily on New York City, Granik says he has maintained extensive lists accumulated in other cities.

“We got really greedy and high on our success early on and opened branches in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami,” Granik says. “But soon [we] realized that we didn’t have a stable business model in those cities to support the editorial teams, and closed those branches.”

Although there is nothing new on the horizon for Myopenbar, Granik says it still generates money through events and marketing campaigns.

“You can only do so much with a Web site about free booze, you know?” he says. “And we certainly did a lot with it…. The old girl had a good run but she’s still kicking major ass.”

Visit Myopenbar.com for daily and ongoing drink specials and get your party on!

Take a Ride Without Being Taken for a Ride

30 Sep

DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan taking a spin

There is much hype about the upcoming New York City bike share program. I just happened to walk into the press conference September 14, where Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner, announced that Alta Bike Share would manage the program. That includes maintaining the bikes and installing the solar-powered stations.

As a motorist, I’ve been critical of the city’s bike lanes because I think they cause more congestion, but probably more so because I don’t live in Manhattan; I
can’t schlep a bike in my car every day (if I drive in). So bike sharing eliminates that problem for me. And it could potentially eliminate having to pay for several subway or bus trips at $2.25 a pop. (And who knows how much it will be when the bike share program launches next summer?) I’m not doing the math–you don’t have to: It’s obviously a bargain! However, pricing and station location details are being worked out and the DOT is asking for the public’s input. So
far, the city plans to have 10,000 bikes distributed among 600 stations in Manhattan as well as parts of northwest Brooklyn. Right now, you can let the department know where you would like a station by clicking here. More about
the pricing later, since that’s what I like most.

The program is privately funded and Alta is in charge of finding corporate sponsorship. In Boston, New Balance is the sponsor of what is called the Hubway. And I figured, since I was in Boston this week, I’d try it out. My take: It’s great!

For the ladies (or those who carry bags), there is a place to park your purse on the front of the bike, safely secured by a bungee cord. I just wanted to get that out of the way.

The New Balance Hubway launched in July with more than 40 stations. It will eventually include 61 stations and 600 bikes. It is easy to use: Just swipe your credit card and get a code, which you punch into the bike’s dock to release it. One-day passes are $5, annual memberships are $85. With either, you can enjoy unlimited 30-minute-or-less free trips (for costs above the 30 minutes, visit TheHubway.com. In Boston, there are so many stations, typically with 10 bikes each, according to the city, you can easily return a bike and just take it out again to start another 30-minute journey. It’s also great because the bikes lock in electronically; with your own bike, you have to worry about properly securing it at your destination.

Boston is a little less congested than New York, which makes street cycling a bit easier. But it also has the Emerald Necklace, more than 1,000 acres of park space designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central and Prospect Park fame), that has off-road bike paths throughout the city, making the experience even
more enjoyable.

And the city of Boston has made a concerted effort to enforce biking rules and educate the public. In New York, I see bikers disobeying the rules all the time. I hope that the DOT is committed to joining with the NYPD to make it safer once the program is in place.

According to Alta, there were 50,000 rides in the first five weeks of the program in Boston and more than a million rides in Washington in its first year, which is just wrapping up.

Now, back to the money-saving part: Boston’s T (for those who don’t know, it’s the city’s train system) costs $1.70 per ride with a Charlie Card (the Beantown version of the MetroCard). So, if New York City’s program costs anything near Boston’s, think about the savings! There are just so many benefits.

“Bike share is a new, affordable form of public transportation that will help connect New Yorkers to their own neighborhoods, to other neighborhoods and to public transit,” says Alison Cohen, president of Alta Bicycle Share. “At the same time, it will make New York City a healthier, cleaner, greener and safer place.”

And speaking of safety: The only downside is you need your own helmet. In Boston, when you buy your membership online, you can also add a low-cost helmet to your order. It’s not mandatory, but not a bad idea to have one.

It just so happens that Alta will hold a demonstration of the bike share program this Sunday (October 2) at the Atlantic Antic street fair in Downtown Brooklyn.

For more information on the NYC Bike Share program, visit nycbikeshare.com.

Savor the Savings

1 Sep

Just because the extended New York City summer Restaurant Week is winding down doesn’t mean you have to pay full price at some of the city’s best restaurants. That’s where Savored comes in.

This restaurant reservation service started last year as VillageVines. Founded by two guys who quit their Wall Street jobs, Dan Leahy and Ben McKean, Savored can save you 30% off your total bill at places like Le Cirque, db Bistro Moderne, Butter and Fatty Crab–without having to show a coupon. Perfect for taking someone out on a date or for business. The 30% is automatically deducted from the bill.

“VillagesVines was a laundry list of deals so, when we launched Savored, we wanted the name to reflect the richness of the site,” according to Michael Weber, Savored’s marketing coordinator. “It sort of implies a coveted feel.”

In other words, the team at Savored is selective in the restaurants it
partners with.

“A lot of what we want to build with Savored is that the restaurant is going to be worth your while,” Weber says. “We want you to trust us that the other restaurants we recommend will be good. You’re not just coming to discover a great deal, but also discover a new dining experience.”

And that exclusivity, Weber says, also gives restaurants who wouldn’t normally want to be associated with a discount the OK to partner with Savored.

“We help them fill their otherwise empty tables,” Weber adds.

So, you’re probably wondering how it works. Well, first you must join, which is free. Then you pay $10 per reservation. However, there are hardly any restrictions after that: There’s no dollar limit to the savings and it also includes alcohol (except in Boston; they still have all those vestiges of Puritanism up there). However, members in Beantown get 40% off their bill to compensate! The discount cannot be combined with other offers (which are probably not as good as this anyway). But if your discount doesn’t exceed $10 (which seems unlikely), Savored will refund you the reservation charge.

There are almost 600 restaurants in 10 cities around the country–nearly 200 in New York City alone. Those other cities besides New York and Boston include Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta and Denver. You can even see each restaurant’s Zagat rating on the site.

Other features: If you can change your reservation, you have up to two hours before your scheduled time to do it. And Savored rewards you when you invite friends to join and they make a reservation. So visit Savored by clicking here to start eating well…. and saving too.

The Best Things in Life Can Be Free

30 Aug

If you live in Manhattan, you may have passed by Vero Restaurant & Wine Bar, or you may have even been there before. But have you been on a Monday? Well, I think it’s worth a visit. On Monday nights, you get a free panini with any drink. Order as little as a great glass of Pinot Grigio ($9), and you get to choose from six varieties.

Owner Benny Silman says he started
the promotion almost 10 years ago, when the first location on the Upper East Side opened.

“We originally did it to build our Mondays because they were slow,” says Silman. “Within six months, we were packed every Monday and became a staple on the Upper East Side for many years to come.”

But I think there’s more reason to visit; I’ve been to Vero before and all the food I ordered was  excellent. Last night, however, I specifically went to check out the paninis. The two I tried–prosciutto, fig, Gorgonzola and rosemary oil, and turkey, Fontina, tomato and pesto–were so good, and usually $12 each. I also tried the light and not-too-sweet watermelon sangria, one of five different flavors (there’s also tropical fruit, blood orange, red and white), which you can get for only $5 Tuesday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and all day Sunday.

There’s the option of enjoying these specials inside, where it’s softly lit by candles, or outdoors. I think it’s a great setting for either a date or simply a get-together with friends. There also are two locations: A Midtown location opened three years ago, which also offers the panini and sangria specials. Vero Restaurant & Wine Bar, 1483 Second Avenue, Manhattan,(212) 452-3354; 1004 Second Avenue, Manhattan, (212) 935-3530

All You Need Is a Dollar and a Drink

22 Aug

Ever wanted to buy someone a drink but thought, “Shoot, I can’t afford my drink and one for someone else!” Well, depending on the drink and the location, you can–through Bartab. Bartab’s mobile app (or Web site, Bartab.com) allows you to buy $1 drinks at  participating bars for a friend–or yourself–and send it via Facebook, text or e-mail. The receiver then shows the bartender the virtual coupon and redeems the drink for another dollar.

According to Davis Schneider, spokesperson for Bartab’s parent company, Webtab Inc., the idea came after observing that Facebook trend of buying people virtual gifts (remember that scam!). Schneider says the thought was: “Everyone’s sending these fake, virtual drinks, why not send real drinks?” Thus, Bartab launched in May 2011 in San Fransisco.

He says the idea is to bring virtual interaction into the physical. Now, you can interpret that how you like (a way of enticing someone to meet you for a drink, possibly?). My friend just sent me a drink last week before we went to play trivia at Stone Creek Lounge (one of the more than 100 participating bars in New York City). I know so many people who don’t make a ton of money or are unemployed and don’t want to go out and spend. This is a great way to at least be able to be social without breaking the bank. And we so often loosely say to each other, “Let’s grab a drink.” It can, at times, be BS, right?  However, by sending someone a drink, it kind of forces you to actually drink together (hopefully).

There are some very minor catches: It’s not just for any drink, just the drinks listed for that bar. My friend sent me a black cherry vodka cocktail. With a splash of soda, it was quite good. Also, you can only claim one drink per hour and one per bar per day. So, technically, you could start at one place at 8 p.m., redeem your first Bartab drink, move onto another participating bar at 9 pm, redeem a drink there, and so on… Still, not too bad considering a drink in New York City can cost, on average, $14.

Bartab has more than 700 partner bars and restaurants in 17 markets now. Besides New York and San Francisco, it’s now available in Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, Atlanta, Washington and Phoenix, to name a few other cities. Schneider says Bartab plans to partner up with liquor companies soon to offer branded products, both regionally and nationally. So sign up, add some money to your account via Mastercard or Visa and start drinking. Cheers!