Thursday, April 30, 2009

The new "it" fabric? Burlap.

Yup, burlap. As in the material that potato sacks are made of.

Call it a sign of the times, or "recession chic" or what have you, but for those who thought burlap was only relegated to Depression-era farm children swathed in coarse, itchy togas, think again. Burlap is back in a big way -- and not only that, if designer goods are your modus operandi, be prepared to spend big.

How big? Try about $1,400 for the Miu Miu burlap ensemble (above), complete with pink streak of spray paint, of course. I think the streak lends a certain je ne sais quoi, don't you? Or this dress, also about $1,400.

The New York Times is calling this new fad "bread-line chic". Clever. I call it "the Emperor has no clothes" syndrome. If you want a pair of matching shoes for your itchy little dress (move over LBD, the ILD is the new kid in town), then why not try Miu Miu's $600 burlap pumps? But why should we stop there. Why not, say, use the coarse fabric to upholster high-end furniture? Oh wait, that's already been done. I'm just waiting for a burlap bikini. Perhaps I should fashion one once Love and I get through cooking all the potatoes in our kitchen.

Seeing this I can't help but be reminded of that I Love Lucy episode, entitled "Lucy Gets a Paris Gown." In it Lucy decides to go on a hunger strike until Ricky agrees to buy her a designer dress, which he saves for until he finds out Ethel has been smuggling Lucy food. Ricky decides to teach Lucy a lesson by putting together a haphazard burlap dress and passing it off as a Paris original. Lucy believes him and wears it proudly. Hilarity (of course) ensues, especially because this is how ridiculous she looked:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Coupon Queen" spends $10 on $150 worth of groceries

I'm speechless (and impressed):

Is this seriously possible? I know it takes a lot of research and hard work, but still. (P.S. Love the image of this tiny woman with a Brooklyn accent pushing a giant overflowing grocery cart almost as tall as her through the aisles of her local supermarket. Priceless.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Sad Clown

Betty, post-meltdown

I was watching a rerun of Mad Men Season 2 on AMC last night when I was reminded -- as if I needed reminding -- why I think it's the best drama on TV, period. It so beautifully captures a time period in our nation where we were hanging in a balance; WWII had ended, the Vietnam War hadn't yet happened, the Kennedys were in power and you knew you were living the American dream if you owned a powder-blue boat of a Cadillac replete with fins.

As we all know now in hindsight, this world was not set up around a pillar of equality. Women had their place, and that was generally in two locales. If you were married, you played house, raising the children, cooking, cleaning, running errands, and looking pretty and proper as arm candy at your husband's work functions. All other women worked "out there" in the real world, which tended to elicit sympathy and is another post to come.

Anyways, the episode last night (called a "A Night to Remember") is one of my favorites and includes a scene in which Betty Draper finally confronts the fact that she and her husband (Don Draper) are on unequal footing. Not surprisingly, she feels vulnerable and embarrassed. Embarrassed because what finally spurs this flitting thought to take a seat front and center in her consciousness is that she suspects Don of cheating on her, and not only that, she feels like everyone must know except her -- as if this elusive world of men that Don is a member of is all in on it. And she's right -- everyone knows...Betty was just the last to find out.

A little background: Before the confrontation, Don and Betty have a dinner party for Don's coworkers, which Betty has painstakingly spent days preparing for. In her polka-dot "clown" dress, Betty offers Heineken to the gentlemen, which elicits lighthearted laughter because (unbeknownst to her) Don has been working on a Heineken ad campaign in the office. The embarrassment from the dinner party carries over to Betty's confrontation and climaxes with her telling him that he knows her so well and she knows nothing.

I can't help but wonder how many of our grandmothers had similar conversations at some point early in their marriages, during the 1940s, 50s and early 60s. After all, men were heads of the house and women came second, including in any decision-making that involved the family or finances. Because men were characteristically seen as "providers" for the family, I think it was subconsciously accepted that they could do as they pleased because they brought home the bacon and held the purse strings. This sort of financial power that men held gave them a sense that they afforded their philandering lifestyle and crippled women like Betty into the submissive Stepford wife she portrayed all through Season 1.

To TV watchers, not only does Betty know nothing about where Don is every day, or what kind of affairs he carries on with, she also literally knows, well, nothing -- especially about the family's finances. If Don were to leave for good, Betty would have no other option than moving back in with her parents (her two children in tow), and it's this sort of purgatory that kept so many women in the 1950s and early '60s stuck in dead-end marriages. Not only was there a financial incentive to stay with your husband, but also divorce was not a term thrown around lightly. (A divorced, single mother that lived down the street from the Drapers in Season 1, for example, was looked at as a pariah in the community.) To be a female divorcee translated to being a failed woman.

Again, this Mad Men story line resonates because similar scenarios have happened to many of our grandmothers -- and maybe even our mothers. I'm not some raving feminist, but I can't help but be grateful that as women we now have the right to choose what we want our lives to be and we all have the freedom to be in charge of our finances, stigma-free. I love being married (and I admit, I do love Don Draper, the cad), but it's refreshing to know that nowadays we don't have to get married to feel financially secure, or fully depend on a man (and a cheating one, at that!) to make the right financial decisions for us because we have no other option.

For the entire day after the confrontation, Betty pads around the Draper house in her disheveled party dress from the night before, makeup in disarray, and rifles through Don's suits and desk, trying to find any evidence of his cheating ways. The image that struck me most in this scene was when Betty sat in Don's desk chair in his home office, trying in vain to open his locked desk drawers that undoubtedly carried the family's files on everything from finances to health insurance. These were drawers Betty, as a wife and woman, was not allowed in.

Betty looked so out of character sitting in Don's chair, as if she had usurped -- for a brief moment, at least -- his head-of-house throne. Luckily for us, though, head of house is a character we can all play now.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Fashionable Fridays: Miss Dior Cherie

I was perusing the latest issue of Elle Magazine two nights ago, getting more and more bummed with the turn of every page due to wanting all that I couldn't afford in the mag, when I came across this beautiful ad for Dior's new fragrance:

I immediately fell in love with the picture. Not only do I love the model's ensemble, but I love the way the picture captures the whimsically magical and romantic side of Paris -- you know, the idealized side of the City of Lights us Americans always imagine it to be like through movies like Amelie and Paris Je T'aime. I'm looking for the original print to frame, minus the Dior wording, but in the meantime I figured that with Paris on my mind, I'd find a way for us girls on a budget to also pull off the Miss Dior Cherie look.

Here's how to capture the look above without breaking the bank (click on pics for prices):

Floating above Paris, optional. ;)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I want my Mtv

The men I spend my Sunday nights with.

Okay, maybe not my Mtv, but definitely my AMC, as I firmly believe I would die a slow, painful death without Mad Men (yes, I've actually pondered this scenario). For that matter, I also wouldn't be able to live without my TCM either, as it's my umbilical cord to all things classic film (feed me, Robert Osbourne!). Add to that HGTV, the "real estate porn channel" that allows me to live cathartically through strangers on House Hunters International as they navigate the lux terrain of Parisian apartments. And don't get me started on the Travel Channel and my daily, necessary (or what Love has dubbed "obsessive") dose of Anthony Bourdain. I'm a productive person, an astute multi-tasker, and yes, I do enjoy watching television -- sometimes more than I should. My point is that these are things ... shows ... I don't want to live without, people. They are the backbone of my stunningly vast pop culture knowledge and most are sadly not offered for free online.

Why am I presenting you with this panoply of favorite channels? Well, I'm going to be acting on a giant, exciting, I-can't-wait-for-it decision next month that will alter how much I'll need to save and how my budget will look strutting into this next year. "What is this life-altering decision?" you may ask with baited breath. I know, I feel your plight. I often amaze even myself with my impulsive decisions, but patience, my pretties. That's a post left best for mid-May. (And don't go buying me chic maternity clothes just yet, there is no pregnancy or baby involved.)

In the meantime, I've had to analyze my spending style and list what sorts of accoutrements I can cut out in my month-to-month living to conserve cash. In our household, our Comcast bill is one of the larger, more expendable bills we pay on a monthly basis, which brings me to the shows and channels that propel my weeks forward, like buoyant seaweed draped on the overactive rudder of my life. I like my seaweed and want it hanging off my rudder, thankyouverymuch.

Love and I debated the other night as to whether we could do without cable television. Left to his own wits, he'd never watch any of the shows I tune in to weekly (though since we've gotten married he has seen the light -- well, sort of -- with Mad Men, Grey's Anatomy, Anthony Bourdain and The Hills. Lucky, lucky man). In fact, Love isn't a big TV person at all. He's more of a DVD kind of a man, and thoroughly enjoys such cinematic masterpieces like Big Trouble in Little China and Reign of Fire. Yes, I know. I, on the other hand, enjoy dramas centered around faux Seattle doctors, foodie trips to Bangladesh by ex-drug addict chefs, and the nitty-gritty stories spun between bottled blondes and their beaus in La La Land, with a dollop of Kelly Cutrone on the side. This is all when I'm not watching TCM, naturally.

So how does a couple who is out to save money compromise? Do we cut the cable and watch what little is available online? Rent episodes on Netflix DVDs when they are released? (Boo.) Keep the cable and stop buying the small amount of action movie DVDs we actually purchase?

In cases as dire as this, we do what I want -- and naturally, that's what we did. Which means we're keeping the cable and finding other costs to cut so that I can tune in to Mad Men Season 3 this summer, Love at my side, as planned. I can't wait.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Gucci for less

If you love Gucci but can't afford the haute looks, maybe this re-creation will satisfy your designer appetite, compliments of DesertRose:

Loves it! Not sure if the dress is still available, but horizontal stripes are big this season -- in fact, I saw a dress very similar to this one recently at H&M for about $35. The yellow jacket, pumps and belt round out this outfit nicely at about $50 total, which isn't bad for accessories that can be paired with many other ensembles!

Vogue's cat is out of the bag

Not like you sign up for mag subscriptions in the hope that the free swag you get will actually be quality (right??), but if the driving factor in becoming a Vogue reader was the new purse you were promised, you may have found yourself a little...underwhelmed.

According to the New York Post, wannabe Anna Wintours hoping to score free glamour with a Vogue Magazine subscription need not apply. You see, in the Vogue ad, the Post says the bag appears to be red leather with a crocodile embossment and a clasp with over-the-shoulder straps.

"Instead what shows up in the mail, in a standard 8 in. by 10 in. polybag, is a red canvass bag with "pleather" handles about the size of a small gym bag. The bag also has "pleather" patches on the bottom corners and a zipper closure."


What happens when the empty nest isn't so empty?

Here's a guest post from my friend, freelance writer Trisha Wagner. Enjoy!

Do you remember the first time you moved away from home? The feeling of excitement, independence and freedom? The joy and trepidation of finally striking out on your own with no parents looking over your shoulder or bossing you around? I know I remember those feelings well and nothing ever compares to moving into your first place. Now imagine fast forwarding five, ten or even fifteen years and having to face the fact that you can no longer make it on your own. While it has become somewhat common for some college grads to bounce back to the family homestead until they get “established” the current state of the economy is forcing grown men and women out of their homes and back to mom and dad's place.

With the tough economic times that we are facing, this situation is becoming a reality for many families. To say the least this arrangement can be stressful for both parties and it is important to set some ground rules to prevent both of you from falling back into your old roles. The following tips can help you get in and out of the family home with the least amount of disruption to all involved.

Set Rules Before Moving Home. This is important for both the parents and the adult child to establish what is expected of all parties. If the move home is a result of a financial hardship, agreeing on what will be expected of you will go a long way toward a peaceful co-existence. Due to the current state of the economy your parents may want to help you financially but find themselves unable due to their own financial situation. Both parties need to agree and feel comfortable discussing these financial responsibilities before you move home.

Be Respectful Of Privacy. Let's face it, you have grown accustomed to having your own space and so have your parents. Remember this is their home and just because they want to help you doesn't mean they will relish having another person (even their child) hanging on the sofa all day. Be respectful of their privacy and the daily “routines” that we all have.

Have A Plan. Remember moving back home with the folks should be a temporary arrangement to help you get back on your feet. This means if you are unemployed you should continue to look for work. If you are currently working, you should be extra mindful of your spending habits. You don't want to be a mooch, cost your parents more money or spend your paycheck on fabulous new shoes. Make the most out of this opportunity to get your finances in order by saving as much money as you can possibly afford. This may mean making sacrifices or adjusting your lifestyle but that is the reality of your life at the moment.

Learn From Your Mistakes. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes. Successful people however learn from those mistakes. There are many reasons why an adult child may be forced to move home. Some situations are out of your control (loss of employment or major medical issues). Other circumstances may have been preventable had you managed your finances better. Don't let past missteps stop you from moving forward toward your financial goals; establish where you went wrong and make the changes necessary to prevent the same mistakes from happening in the future.

While no one wants to move back home under the watchful eyes of their parents, certain situations may leave you with no other options. At a time when your pride might be hurting don't forget to be thankful and appreciative that you have parents and a home to fall back on-- not everyone is as fortunate.

Trisha Wagner is a freelance writer for where you can compare rates of deposit accounts from dozens of banks in one place. Trisha writes regularly on the topics of personal finance and savings accounts.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Fashionable Fridays: Casual in the city

Today was like any other day: I woke up, decided to run with the smokey-eye look, threw an outfit together and spritzed myself with perfume on my way out the door. I guess I looked cuter than usual (is that even possible?) because my garb caught the attention of many passerbys (don't even pretend like you weren't checking me out, you trio of men in suits -- I saw you out of the corner of my dark sunglasses). And of course I also got compliments from friends throughout the day. It's funny, at least in my case: When I don't try that hard with my outfits, they always come out being the best. Anyway, here's a sample of what I wore:

Nothing amazing, but it looked very polished and put together. What's pictured isn't exactly what I wore, as my tank was a darker gray and pleated all around the neckline, plus my shoes were slightly different (and much cheaper than these), but you get the point. All in all, my outfit cost about $30 total (yes, $30), minus the gold necklace, which was given to me as an early bday present from a friend at lunch today. My point? You can look fashionable and modern without spending tons of money.

A tip to remember is to not talk yourself into the wrong clothing just because it is cheap or is on sale -- buy it because it looks fabulous on you and will be able to be mixed and matched. Also be on the lookout of ways to accessorize the "blah" you already own. A drab gray tank will always be a drab gray tank unless you get creative (like above). Cinch it with a big belt in white or brown and play it up with the right jewelry, statement handbag and killer heels. All of a sudden your drab gray tank will become the base palette for your divine outfit, and not the focal point of an otherwise boring ensemble. But you already knew that, right? ;)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Have discounts gone the way of leggings?

Were discounted designer duds out before they were even in, much like leggings that were so 17 seasons ago the minute they re-debuted for the first time since the early '90s? The jetsetting, I-step-on-the-heads-of-the-middle-class-on-my-way-to-tea-at-the-Ritz seem to think so. After all, if everyone else can also buy a $3,000 Dolce and Gabbana dress (albeit heavily marked down for us normal folk), than what would distinguish them from us? It would be utterly blasphemy, this near-incestuous melting pot of classes, from the very poor to the very rich, all buying the same things and festering in uncalled-for solidarity. I shiver at the thought.

But you see, that's what would happen if This Economy continues to take its toll on poor designers like Eileen Fisher, Oscar de la Renta and Versace, who it seems would prefer that department stores go bankrupt rather then have to slash prices in order to keep peddling the very designer goods that so many of us covet as an escape from the confines of mid-tier stores like The Gap, et. al. Do the Anna Wintours of the world have a point? If prices were slashed mercilessly, like the sad peeps at Rite Aid sitting restless and 50% off post-Easter, their once-vibrant pink coats now a faded shade of sour pepto bismol, would the playing ground become more even, thus upsetting the equilibrium of the world? Would it all really matter? Does there need to be a defining line -- in this case, made up of obnoxiously unattainable couture clothing that I admit I really, really want -- that separates the successful from the striving, the haves from the have-nots?

If This Economy can absolutely bury the oldest of what we thought were bullet-proof financial institutions (aurevoir, Lehman Bros.), and pick apart and plunder the most notable of giant law firms, pummeling laid off partners and associates in its undertow (aren't these people all supposed to be "recession-proof"?), then surely the economic tsunami can -- and should -- do something as insignificant as lower what are -- let's face it -- purely ridiculous and inflated clothing prices connoting a higher-end lifestyle we all lust after.

Does a full-price, $1,200 Carolina Herrera dress have any more value than, say, the knockoff of said dress at Macy's? Both sides of the class line are beginning to ponder that question, especially the side that was duped into paying full price for it (ahem, Ritz Carlton tea-goers.)

According to The Wall Street Journal, the price swings of designer goods have "confused" high-end customers (poor things), leading them to question the real value of their purchases. Apparently those in this group feel duped for having paid full price.
Shortly after Nancy Novogrod paid full price at a department store for a pair of spring Jil Sander slacks, the editor of Travel + Leisure Magazine got an email saying the store's spring sale was under way. "Spring sale?" Ms. Novogrod said when New Yorkers were still shivering in mid-March. "That's not buyer remorse. That's buyer rage."
Oh how I feel your plight, Ms. Novogrod. (Hold on a second, I need to toss my Target clothes in the laundry. Ok, back.) And so, once the rich feel ripped off (gasp), then of course the designers are left to bear the brunt of the backlash, which has recently caused many to demand being left out of department stores' sales.

"All our brands are taking great care to ensure that what happened in November will not happen again," Paola Milani tells the WSJ. Milani is a spokeswoman for Gucci Group, which owns Bottega Veneta, Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci and other brands. And what happened in November was that it was the first time designers saw their merchandise so drastically marked down by the retailers who carried their goods. "The idea is to maintain pricing coherence in the regions in which our products are sold regardless of channel of distribution."

The article states that the luxury brands want to control when they take discounts and on which products. And the deals will likely be less sweeping. Why does that not surprise me...and make me feel somewhat left out. Oh wait, it's because I can't readily flick my debit card over the cashier's counter whenever I get the slightest notion to buy a new coat or handbag costing over $1,000. Come on, Economy, work your magic in the sale section of this brunette on a budget's nearest Bloomingdale's...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stephanie Pratt: Poster child for jaded youth

FYI Lauren: Buttercup (aka Robin Wright Penn) called from The Princess Bride -- she wants her hairdo back.

Show of hands of those who caught The Hills last night. Don't lie. All right, even if you "don't watch" (liar) this vapid farce of a true TV drama that also happens to double as the guiltiest of my pleasures, there was a scene last night in which Spencer Pratt's sister, Stephanie, an aspiring (I use that word loosely) fashion student (also, used loosely), interviews with People's Revolution for a fashion intern opening. The scene culminates with a befuddled Stephanie, barely able to string words together in a coherent sentence, obvi illustrating that this interview is probably one of the first interviews this blonde LA FIDM student has ever actually partaken in. Sad.

But what's more sad? When People's Revolution owner Kelly Cutrone asks what her objective is, Stephanie blurts out: "I want my own handbag line." Don't be fooled by the way it's typed. It wasn't said with an assertive confidence, as if the girl had always wanted to design bags her whole life. It was said with trepidation...a hesitancy that suddenly made millions of us viewers (me included) painfully aware that this girl has never truly thought about what she wants to do for a "real" know, in the "real world" outside of The Hills. What's even more sad is that (and maybe I've just become a curmudgeon in the ripe days leading up to my 27th birthday), it seems like there are more "Stephanies" out there than usual these days, wearing tiaras of entitlement as if the world owes them any semblance of a clothing line (ahem, L.C.), commercial gig touting Yaz birth control (ahem, Lo), or some pathetic handbag line (ahem, Stephanie).

I read an article a few months ago that examined the career aspirations of "Generation Myspace," and guess what the takeaway was? Essentially, a decade or two ago, when youngsters were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, you'd get the token answers: Doctors, get the picture. When that same question was recently asked of an up-and-coming group of pre-teens, the answers were starkly different. The overwhelming response was that the herd wanted to "be like Paris Hilton" when they grew up. And can you really blame them? We've made it seem like winning a spot on America's Next Top Model, slutting it up in Rock of Love, or sunning on Roberto Cavalli's Mediterranean yacht after a botched boob job and three stints in rehab (a la Tara Reid) are all viable career options. That's what's mostly sad. I'm all about following your passion, but placing your chips on Mtv-produced dreams just because you or someone you know (sorry, Paris Hilton doesn't count) was born with a silver spoon in their mouth doesn't make you a handbag designer, a "real" novelist (LA Candy? C'mon) or a perfume whiz (Four words: "Dashing" by Kim Kardashian). What has happened to the real value of work? Oh wait, India is calling, let me ask them.

I think Gawker summed up my sentiment perfectly in their latest Hill's recap, touching on Stephanie's ill-fated interview:

"The thing about the handbag thing... Didn't Spencerina just seem so dumb at that moment? Like, the thing always seems like a hopping idiot, but this was special. Dumb because, really, this girl has clearly not taken one fucking honest hour's worth of her time to just sit down and think about what she wants to do with her life. So here's dumb, fattened, aimless youth, everyone. This hideous thing yipping about handbags as if that's a job. It's not a job. Neither is "I'm going to have my own skin care line," idiot on Real Housewives of Orange County. None of that is real. But more importantly, don't act like anyone owes you these ridiculous non-jobs. You aren't owed shit. You owe us. You, Spencerina the Brave Mumbling Idiot, you owe us."

Touche, Gawker. Touche. I don't think it's going out on a limb to say that I fear for the future.

Rant over.

1952 called...

There I was, in a fog of Travel Channel haze on a lazy Sunday afternoon, in my fourth Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations episode of the day and about to flip off the telly to do something, well, actually productive, when Anthony meandered into a Swedish store after his obligatory chowing down of a local, streetside hotdog. It was in the store, when he picked up the retro cell phone handset above, that I finally knew what I absolutely had to have for my birthday!!

After looking it up online, I showed Love this amazing invention, and (being true to his title of being married to an "insane" person) he laughed and dismissed it as me just liking what Anthony Bourdain likes. To be fair, though, Anthony did make fun of this handset, and I'm fully aware of how ridiculous it would look to see a girl like moi chatting on a retro handset while waiting for my apartment shuttle, but it wouldn't be the first time I call attention to myself in slightly off ways (we won't go there.) I love it!! It's got a healthy kitsch factor, and I'm all about the retro vibe. Plus, bluetooths et. al. are so boring. With this I can pretend daily that I'm in some 1940s film noir, making secret plans to meet up with Humphrey Bogart in a wayward gin joint in Morocco...or I could just be chatting on the celly, reminding Love to pick up avocados from Costco. Either way.

If you're at all intrigued by this "big hunk of beautiful plastic", click on over to ThinkGeek, where they describe it "as something with that good-old-American solid construction feel - like a 1972 Cadillac."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Is grad school worth it in This Economy?

It's not breaking news that (in general), if you get a higher education degree, you make more money. But a writer over at Slate decided to test this theory recently by taking her reporting to the masses of 20-somethings who are contemplating whether or not going to grad school is worth it in This Economy. What she found is that though more school is usually an unbeatable bet in the long term, it is not looking that way to a lot of students in the here and now. One respondent, in particular, wrote to her with:

"I have a B.S. in sociology, and its value bears a strong similarity to its initials."

Ouch. Then again, what do you expect when you major in sociology? (Kidding, kidding.) According to the article, it seems plenty of students appreciate school as a refuge from the dreaded job market but are wary of the immediate payoff.
Look at student loans, the opportunity cost of taking two (business) or four (law) or eight (medicine) years off of your working life, add in a horde of other people with the same qualifications as you who are competing for a handful of available jobs and it's easy to see just how much the job market in these professions looks like a bubble that is about to burst. [Actually, law school is three years.]
To be fair, the story does mention that economists across the board dispute these points. "When things recover, it's going to be the highly skilled who are still in greatest demand (as has been true for the last three decades)," David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology tells Slate. "So, for someone considering engineering, medicine, computer science, economics, law, biology, etc., I would say 'go.' ... The recession makes education look like a better deal than ever because the opportunity cost of investing in your human capital has not been this low in quite some time."

But even the traditional safe havens in the job market, like becoming a lawyer, aren't so safe anymore. (Love complains about legal layoffs across the U.S. on a weekly basis, and let me tell you people, from all the info he shows me, it's a scary, scary time to pursue a legal career.) According to the Slate reporter, she "also heard from law school graduates with $200,000 in debt who wonder what they were thinking as firms downsize and implode." MIT's David Autor response? "As for the law degree being underwater: Lawyers may get their shoes wet during the recession, but high school grads can't even see the surface they are so far down," he says.

So the question remains: Is higher education still worth it? I'm of the mind that education cannot hurt you. I have my Master's and although I'm sure I could have gotten as far as I am in my career now without the higher education I traversed through, my degree is an added perk on my resume and in the training that's gotten me to this point; therefore, I have no regrets. It may be harder to find a job now for someone with, say, an MBA (students on a budget can consider an MBA online to an affordable degree) or degree in a tech-related field, but once This Economy turns around, I do think the highly skilled/educated folk will be the first to cross the threshhold into the new job landscape.

Do any of you have your graduate degrees and wish (at this point) that you could just give them back? If you went on after college, did you think grad school was a waste of time? If you opted to not pursue a grad program, what was the biggest reason?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mow the lawn?

All I can say is: "Wow."

Don't know if any of you chickadees saw the Schick Quattro ad that began running a few weeks ago, where potted shrubbery would magically shrink everytime a woman walked by, subconciously telling you that the razor company thinks you should...well, you get the picture.

Anyway, Schick's latest ad just came out and I couldn't help but laugh out loud. You can watch it here.

Thoughts? I'm not even close to being a hardcore feminist by any means, and I can definitely appreciate the humor, but I can't believe they went with this!!! Suffice to say, I'm impressed they are willing to take the risk. It's something you'd expect SNL to whip up to parody a razor commercial, but I guess that's what Schick was going for. Mow the lawn, indeed.

Eat for free at work

One of seven tips on how to eat for free at work, from Top Cultured:

Tip #2: Screw expiration dates on frozen foods.
It’s inevitable. People get busy. A flustered sales guy will misplace a Lean Cuisine Salisbury Steak dinner under an ice cube tray. The crunchy stoner from the mail room will leave a Kashi stir-fry dish in the company freezer and forget about it. That’s when the waiting game begins. I try to make the rounds every other day or so checking to see what frozen stock is about to hit the magic date - much the way a Napa Valley winemaker checks his oak barrels, waiting for them to mature. The day after something expires, I pounce. And don’t worry about getting sick; the date says
BEST if used by April 10, 2007. It’s not a warning. It’s a suggestion.

Hilarious. Click over to read all seven.

Hold your spending urge at bay

Put that Chloe bag down. Now. According to new research quoted by Prevention Magazine, holding an object for as little as 30 seconds (instead of just ogling it with your eyes) increases your likelihood of buying it.

Buys who grasped a potential purchase for that long were also more willing to spend more than those who held their items for 10 seconds. Apparently, the lead research author, James Wolf, says its because extended physical contact can confer a sense of ownership.

So that's why whenever I'm in Europe, those guys with the cardboard palettes covered in knockoff sunglasses are adamant about making me hold a pair...try them on. Same goes for stores here, where sales associates are overly eager about "starting a dressing room" for me, or opening up a jewelry case to let me try on a Burberry watch, even if I'm not planning on buying. It's enticement through contact and all of a sudden, it all makes sense. (Photo: Bettman/Corbis via Harvard University)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tipping: An insult in Japan, expected in the U.S.

Anyone remember this scene from Reservoir Dogs?:

Touche, Mr. Pink. Though your sentiment may not be warmly embraced by the professional criminals sitting around you, it turns out other countries definitely feel your plight.

"Everyone has a different interpretation of what's expected and acceptable when showing your gratitude; too much or too little can offend,"Misty Ewing, director of public relations at Virtuoso, tells Forbes.

Regardless of how you feel about shelling out extra dinero for a cab ride or sit-down dinner at a restaurant, here are some top Forbes "tipping" tips for the globetrotters among us:

  • At luxury hotels in Japan, if you try to tip anyone from the wait staff at a top restaurant to the hotel concierge, your gesture will be perceived as a rude and flagrant show of wealth. On the other hand, if you skimp on tipping at any restaurant in the United States or to a concierge who has helped fulfill multiple requests, you probably won't be welcome again.

  • Take a taxi anywhere in South America, and rounding the fare up to the next dollar amount is sufficient as a tip. If you're in an African city such as Cape Town or Nairobi, however, you need to tip 10% for a cab ride.

  • Going to India? Taking a taxi there means there is no need for gratuity at all.

  • In most countries in Europe, the service charge is included in the meal; it's customary to add another 5% to 10% for gratuity, especially in high-end restaurants. If no service charge is included, add 15% to the total bill. For taxis, 10% is the right amount to tip, and for hotel porters, give the equivalent of $2 per bag.

  • In China, giving 3% is expected at restaurants, while in Hong Kong, 10% to 15% is the norm if the gratuity isn't included in the bill. For taxis, you don't need to tip in China, but in Hong Kong, you should round the fare up to the next dollar amount.
So many cultural rules. No wonder so much gets lost in translation.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Come for cocktails, stay for deviled eggs

(picture courtesy of Dyna Moe)

Would you like a hot dog with your martini?

Let's face it: Happy hour is nothing without the deals on bar foods that pace the drinks served. Sure, we've all eagerly ordered that half-price plate of stale nachos or giant bowl of 10-cent wing goodness, but what if you could order exotic fare for cheap, like white polenta agnolotti in a green garlic sauce -- prepared by a world-renowned chef?

Well, your dreams of half-priced sautéed foie gras with sunchokes and watercress are now a full-fledged reality (thank you, economy!). Around the country, restaurant owners -- who are quickly losing money as restaurent goers dwindle -- are converting restaurants into glorified bars, which means top chefs are serving up bar snacks like grilled cheese sandwiches and hot dogs alongside cheaper exotic fare, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Why? The WSJ reports that while consumer spending at restaurants is falling precipitously, drink orders, particularly for cheaper drinks like beer, are barely dropping off (no surprise). For restaurants, it's now proving more cost-effective to serve lower-priced dishes that diners can munch on as they buy drinks.

According to the Journal, selling alcohol, and cocktails in particular, is typically a better business than selling restaurant food because the margins are higher. While ingredient costs may account for as much as 35% of the price of an entrée in a high-end restaurant, they typically only account for about 14% of the price of a cocktail or 25% of the price of a glass of wine. And since restaurants are already paying to run a kitchen, selling additional, easy-to-make food is simply an extra revenue stream (obvis).

So, just how succulent a feast can you afford the next time you saddle up to a bar with your friends (and thirst) in tow? If you swing by Alain Ducasse's Benoit bistro in New York, for example, you can now order dishes like "mini BB sliders" -- blood sausage on a bun with apple marmalade -- for $7. Not bad, especially since I do have a thing for apple marmalade. But even better? The cheapest dish on Ducasse's recently added bar menu is $1 deviled eggs. How very retro! The kitsch factor alone is worth the money.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Stores liquor you up to increase your spending

Free champagne at Nordstroms sounds simply divine, doesn't it? Purchasing $1,000 handbags, $300 designer scarves and obscenely priced cosmetics may not be what you're used to ... but would you feel differently after five glasses of champagne? Would your frugal tendencies be a little more uninhibited with all those wonderful little bubbles going straight to your head, clouding any budgetary judgement you've tried sticking to?

Stores like Nordstroms have been doing this for awhile (you need to be one of their "2nd level shoppers" or whatever it's called, yours truly is in the club), but it seems that offering alcohol to shoppers is a growing trend by retailers to decrease your rationality, increase your impulsivity and at least make you linger longer than normal.

In a Wall Street Journal article specifically dealing with male shoppers, "The recession is driving stores to search for anything that gives them even a small edge over rivals. And generally slower traffic gives sales staff more time to offer drinks and talk with shoppers."

According to one storeowner quoted in the story, "Offering alcohol puts men at ease. I wanted it to be like you're going to your best guy friend's house, a guy friend who has great style." Um, yeah, but your best guy friend isn't deceptively making their home more inviting so that you'll shell over $300 for a new pair of jeans. If so, then that's one expensive drink.

FYI, the cost of purchasing alcohol for stores is minimal, especially compared to other brand-building efforts like advertising, so I get it, it works. And I really can't complain when someone offers me a free cocktail, but it's just something to be mindful of if your spending is already out of control.

As Love said (after reading the WSJ article): "If I only had $200 for a pair of jeans, then I too could have a beer (wait a minute . . . )".

New unemployment data takes us back to the 80s

Still got your job? Lucky you.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that the economy lost 663,000 jobs in March, bringing the total amount of job losses to 5.1 million and the unemployment rate to 8.5 percent, the worst since 1983.

Yup, 1983, when I was but a wee one-year-old youngin', grooving to Culture Club's "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" in a babyseat in my parent's yellow Volkswagon bug (we're from California).

The Labor department reported today that had part-time and discouraged workers been factored in, the unemployment rate would have been 15.6 percent in March, which would have been the highest on record since 1994. And move over France: Today's report also highlighted that the average work week in March dropped to 33.2 hours, a new record low.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's, told the Associated Press: "It's an ugly report and April is going to be equally as bad." Time to brace for those April showers in more ways than one.

Oh and if you want to be Debbie Downer and drop a little unemployment trivia tidbit at your next cocktail party: Since the recession began in December 2007, two-thirds of the 5.1 million jobs in total that have been lost have occurred in the last five months.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I rock ...

... or so thinks Stephanie over at Bonjour Madame. See? She passed on the award to ME (okay, and 6 other people, but we'll just focus on me):

Anyway, she named me as one of her top 7 favorite blogs to read and I'm beyond flattered! With every award, though, there comes a set of rules, but you guys all know the drill by now: I name 7 things I love (so y'all can get to know me better), and then I list my top 7 favorite bloggers. So I'm going to make like Julie Andrews in "Sound of Music" and let you in on a few of my favorite things:
  1. Classic movies. Turner Classic Movies is one of my favorite channels and there's little more I love than spending my Sundays lazing on the couch with Lola, watching some Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant flick. (Although she doesn't speak English, it seems Lola may have an affinity toward Humphrey Bogart, but I could be wrong.) After I'm done watching, I love going online and researching the back story on the director, the filming, the cast, costumes, etc. Needless to say, I'm a walking encylopedia of classic film trivia.
  2. Seeing live music. Whether it be giant arena concerts or just small local venues, I get a rise out of watching bands and/or DJs perform. Music is a big part of my life and I thrive on the electricity in the air at music shows, surrounded by others who can't help but dance and be happy. Some of my favorite concerts have been: David Bowie, Steely Dan, Depeche Mode and Britney (of course).
  3. Traveling; therefore I (majorly) heart the Travel Channel. When I scrounge up enough funds to make traveling a full-time gig, I'll hopefully be spending months at a time abroad, penning my novels at a desk near an open villa window that overlooks some vineyard near Siena.
  4. Spending time with friends and family. When people ask me what I think the meaning of life is, I tell them I don't have to "think" -- I already know. It's all about the relationships you cultivate with those around you. What is your life if you don't have great memories? In the end, that's all anybody is left with.
  5. Shoes -- preferably those of the high-heel variety. When I'm an old lady my feet will probably look like gnarled old stumps of their former selves with all the high-heel wearing I currently partake in, but I can't help myself. There's something so fashionable and empowering about wearing a perfectly cut 3.5-inch pointy toe stiletto ... or 4-inch cork wedge (I've got 3 different pairs) ... or, well, you get the point. The higher, the better. Which reminds me, I saw these at the mall today, drooled through the store window, but walked away with my willpower in tow. (I so wanted to strut in and maybe just try them on, but who are we kidding, that would have led to me buying them and right now I haven't budgeted for impulse shoe purchases. Sigh.) Pressing forward ....
  6. Picnics. Cheap, fun way to have a romantic date with Love. Half the fun of the picnic for me is going to a gourmet deli or even Trader Joe's and stocking up on little culinary indulgences like different kinds of cheeses, olives and wines. Mmmm....
  7. Italy. 'Nough said.
And now for some of my favorite bloggers (don't worry, I love all of you, I just can't list everyone):
  1. Bonjour Madame - Reading this blog makes me wish I was in France, oh, every single day. Madame Stephanie loves France as much as I do, and has great photos, commentary and music to set the mood of every post.
  2. Fete a Fete - Tami at Fete a Fete always features fabulous foods, beauty products and fashions that make me want to go out and spend more money! She very much is "a bon vivant when it comes to chasing after sinful gourmet treats or tracking down the newest beauty potion."
  3. Frugal in Virginia - Dana at Frugal in Virginia definitely knows a thing or two about how and when to snap up the best deals, especially when it comes to grocery shopping. Since following her blog, I have saved hundred of dollars at places like Safeway because she educates readers on every little deal out there. And believe me, people, that is no small feat.
  4. Lifestyles of the Fit and Fabulous - My sister (who's a Division 1 tennis player in college) is also a huge health nut. (I mean that in a good way.) She lives and breaths health and nutrition and has a fabulous body to show as a result (no butch tennis player body here, chickadees, think more a tan Anna Kournikova). Sis just started a blog to share her wealth of knowledge and I'm proud to be able to feature it in my list. :)
  5. A Gai Shan Life - Reading this blog is like watching a well-done reality show. Revanche lets us in on all the little details that make her a three-dimensional character to us digital folk. From her monthly financial snapshots to pics of her latest Mac 'N' Cheese masterpiece, I love checking in to see what she's up to.
  6. Fortuna Finds - Everytime I read Fortuna's blog, I end up laughing out loud. Writing with subtle, humorous wit is a true art, and she's got it down pat. Good read, cracks me up every time.
  7. She's Little and Lovely - If you like me, then you'll love Emilita, who through myriad emails back and forth I've found is essentially my doppleganger. As we are both tap-dancing journalists, I highly suggest checking out her blog, where she posts insightful observations on life, fashion and -- most importantly -- makeup. ;)
Oh, and if you're feeling especially bored tonight and need something to do, head on over to the Budget Fashionista, where my America's Next Top Model post was featured in their latest roundup! Goodnight and God speed.
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