Archive for the ‘Luxury’ Category

One of the greatest joys of making money, I’ve decided, is that it enables me to outsource those pesky chores that I’ve never gotten around doing (and frankly don’t do a great job of).

1. I don’t like doing laundry. When I lived in my previous apartment, I either took laundry home or used a fluff ‘n fold service at $1.50 a pound. Now that laundry is included in my rent and the machines are steps away from my apartment, I don’t mind this chore so much.

So, as my dislike for doing laundry has decreased, so has my willingness to pay someone else to do it for me. I don’t use that service anymore.

2. When I moved out of my previous apartment, my roommate and I hired a cleaning company to give the place a good scrub-down. It cost $200 between the two of us, but if we did it ourselves, we’d be lucky if we could’ve gotten it half as clean in twice the time.

The funny thing is that when I was younger, Mom went over the apartment with a toothbrush (seriously – I still remember trying to clean the bathroom sinks!). But now, whenever she needs to get her rental place ready for a tenant, she hires a service.

3. Car wash. Because I’ve only lived in apartments in my post-college life, I don’t have a good place to wash my car. And apartment-living might be a convenient scapegoat, because even if I had a house I don’t think I’d wash my car that much more frequently. So today I dropped it off at a hand-car-wash place near my work.

And for $20 (including $5 tip), my car was returned to me at 5PM squeaky clean. I can see my reflection off the hood. The interior was vacuumed. The windows were spotless.

What hated chores do you love to outsource?

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Written correspondence is one of the little joys of the fast-paced, technologically-dependent world we live in. That’s why I love stationery, and have dedicated several posts to the wonders of Crane and Papyrus.

New York Times just published The lettered set, an article about people who spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on custom stationery from famous stationers such as Printery, Crane & Co., or Grosvenor Stationery Company. I loved reading the descriptions of the papers… a girl can dream, right? 😉

But it’s a mistake to think that a stationery wardrobe is only for the rich or the famous. I’ll likely never spend $500 on 100 notecards with matching, tissue-lined envelopes from Dempsey & Carroll, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy and use stationery.

You don’t need to spend a ton of money on engraved stationery (although you can. And it’d look fabulous). In fact, I don’t even have special paper for letter-writing – I use them too infrequently to justify the cost. Instead, I keep in a shoe box a small but steadying growing collection filled with notes and cards.

Just as a classic wardrobe has its staples (little black dress, fitted jacket, kitten heels, etc.), a stationery wardrobe also have key pieces (which, in my humble and very non-expert opinion, are):

1. Thank-you cards. The thank-you card is the cornerstone of a stationery wardrobe – it’s the piece that you’ll likely use the most often. I send thank-you notes after job interviews , dinner at friends, etc. Right now, I have 3 different sets of thank-you notes: two from Crane (I tend to reserve these for business purposes), and a set of studier and “cuter” cards that I send to friends.

I am partial to Crane – the quality of its stationery is just so lovely. The cards aren’t cheap, but the website often have sales of 50% off or more. You can also check out discount stores such as Marshalls, where I’ve seen Crane thank-you cards for $5 a set (usually $15). 

2.  Blank cards / notes. These will be the workhorses of your collection. I have sets in several design – a “Sex and the City” style in pink and black, a “zen” design in muted green, and a quirky Hallmark card with a little imprint of a lamp and a tagline “Watt’s up” (get it? Lamp -> lightbulb -> watts -> what’s up?). I also saw that at Marshalls, and LOVED it. Who knew that Hallmark is so clever?

I use these cards for every and anything. Congratulations, condolences, catch-up notes. 

3. Birthday cards. A birthday greeting on Facebook is nice, but birthday cards are even better! I have a set of birthday cards, and a couple of special ones I bought from Papyrus.

When I see sets I like and that I know are a good price, I stock up. One tip – when buying stationery, check out the design/quality of the envelopes. Many times discount stores have cute, super affordable cards for $2-$5 for a set of 10 or 15 cards. Sometimes, the envelopes are plain, white, and thin. I usually pass on these as I prefer colored and/or lined envelopes.

With the above 3 types of stationery, you will be prepared for 99.9% of normal stationery needs. Happy writing!

P.S. Here’s an easy way to remember the difference between stationery (paper goods) and stationary (standing still): stationery = paper.

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Hotwire, hot deal!

After researching several hotels (all 4-5-star properties, all at least $175-$200+ per night) for my parents, I decided to give Hotwire.com a try.

For those unfamiliar with Hotwire.com, it’s a travel site that operates on an “opague” or “blind” model. Hotwire.com’s reservation system tells you the general location of a property and its rating, but not its name or address. So instead of Fancy Hotel at 123 Ocean Street, you’d get the information such as 4.5-star hotel in Waterfront District, amenties include Spa, Tennis, Restaurant, etc. prior to booking.

This time, I got lucky. I managed to book the Omni Hotel for a Saturday night for $90(!). Add on another 15% in taxes and fees, and the total bill still comes to below $110. A quick look on the hotel’s website shows that the best available rate is $219/night.

My parents is getting a night at a luxurious hotel. I am paying a price that’s 50% off the published rate. This is what I call a win-win situation. 🙂

Hotwire.com is not for everyone. It’s certainly NOT flexible and NOT for someone who has an exact hotel in mind (the change/cancel policy is simple – there is none! It’s impossible to change your reservation once you’ve clicked “Confirm”).

If you are willing to be a bit more flexible with hotel selection and are sure about your trip, give it atry. I’ve booked rooms through Hotwire twice now, and both times have been satisfied with the hotels I’ve been received.

Do you use Hotwire.com? What has been your experience?

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McDonald’s and Starbucks are two of the most successful and iconic consumer brands in the world. In recent weeks, I’ve received several new coupons for McDonald’s new McCafe lattes and mochas throuh it’s big marketing push for the new drinks. Starbucks (who has been struggling lately after years of outperformance) must be concerned about its new-found competition.

I came upon this piece on Pierce Mattie PR‘s website (note: I am not affliated with them in any respect), and thought they asked an interesting question:

Will this new campaign help McDonald’s become the coffee brand of choice?

Here’s what I think:

McCafe will not replace Starbucks. The consumers who are seeking the ambiance and the customization that Starbucks offers will not flock en mass to McCafes. McDonald’s, to me, appears “transactional.” People pull up to the drive-through and get a Big Mac and a diet coke, or stop by before work to grab a new latte. Despite the happy characterization of Mickey D’s commercials, few people I know would suggest that as a spot for an after-date drink or a catch-up session with girlfriends.

Starbucks, on the other hand, focuses on the “experiential”. At its best, the coffee giant truly represents the “third space” between home and work where a customer can chat with the barista, order a drink to his specification, then settle in for conversation, socializing, and relaxation. Before he leaves the store, he might pick up a CD or a Starbucks coffee mug

If McDonald’s can woo the consumers who go to Starbucks four times a week and convince them to frequent McCafe twice instead, it will have achieved great success. These consumers are likely to be more interested in a transactional experience even at Starbucks (i.e. the quick morning coffee vs. the drawn-out coffee date or after-work snack).

McDonald’s chose a very opportune moment to push the McCafe concept – in the recession all consumers are looking for a better value-proposition, and McDonalds seeks to deliver that with a lower (than specialty coffee) price point but a higher (than perceived McDonald’s coffee) quality. Before the recession, an office worker may have bought a $4 frappacino before her morning meeting. Now, with a tighter budget, she may instead grab a $2 McCafe latte.

I’m not sure if the McCafe concept as a stand-alone store will catch on – I’ve visited a McCafe, and while the space is nicer and more “coffeehouse-like” than a regular McDonald’s, it’s still a far cry from the styling and the comfort of a Starbucks. I’m very excited to hear that McCafe will be coming out with new drinks over the upcoming months. More coffee drinks are always good in my book!

What do you think? What were your experiences with McCafe drinks, and would you forgo Starbucks for McCafe instead?

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Total luxury

A fluff  ‘n fold laundry service will stop by my apartment tomorrow morning.

Laundry is one of my least favorite household activities. So while sending laundry out is definitely a luxury ($1.50 per pound), it is one which I appreciate, deeply.

Do you outsource any household chores?

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Gilty pleasure

Ye-ap. I signed up for Gilt Groupe, a members-only online “sample sale” site. Each sale showcases designers and lasts for 36 hours. Prices are discounted up to 70%.

Today’s sale features Christian Louboutin. So before I knew it, I was on the site and sifting through the page. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for my wallet!), most of the styles I liked had already sold out in my size. So… whew!

But, er, take a look. If you dare.

If you’d like to join Gilt, click here to sign up. But don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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It’s been confimed. The recession has had no impact on dampening my love for fine paper goods.

I have written of my penchant for thank-you notes by the impeccable Crane & Co. This weekend, on a trip to Target, I fell in love with premium handmade cards fashioned by Papyrus. Forget those $1 or $2 cards you find at drugstores – these cards, with fabric appliqué and glitter and gold foil, are works of art, all in their own.

Their prices, accordingly, are pretty high. At first I have to admit some sticker shock ($5+ for a card?!), but you know, beautiful cards for my beautiful friends! So in the spirit of compromise, I picked up a handful of cards for $4 to $5 each, but skipped the $7+ ones that I liked.

Here are some of my favorite designs, available from the website:

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