Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Wedding gifts: How do you give them?

Do you have a fixed amount you spend on wedding gifts for everyone? X amount for friends, and Y amount for family? Do you feel that your gift amount has to "pay" for the meal / party you get?

I've heard so many different methods about what people do and for whom. The subject is weighing heavily on my mind right now because I'm going to a wedding this weekend at a *vehry* chichi Manhattan location, black tie and all. Some friends feel that they have to buy a gift that would sort of "pay back" the value of their place setting, and are spending big bucks! (I mean, it wouldn't suprise me if this is about $300/person wedding.) I like this friend, but hey, I don't have that kind of scratch. Nevermind that Spouse is coming with me. That scratch x 2? Forget it!

Co-invitees who are no more related to the bride and groom than I am (that is, not at all related) are making fun of another friend who is thinking about spending just $100 or so on a gift: "How can he do that?! I would do that only if I *weren't* going to the wedding. How much is the couple spending on US?"

I hate thinking of it all as a tit-for-tat. It's not my fault that this couple has more money than I do and chooses to have their party at a lavish spot. And why, if I'm following this "pay for your plate" rule, would I spend more on a friend than I would on family members who have had their parties at, you know, the American Legion or whatever?

Help me figure out what to do. I have an amount in mind and I"m just going to spend what I'm comfortable with, right? Or is that cheap?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A New Business Owned By Local Women...

...that I read about in the local paper sounded great. Two local ladies who had gotten fed up by handymen who never show up, or overpriced and underestimated jobs, etc. started a service that assigns handymen and other home-repair workers to your home for an hourly fee, and promises that you have a good experience. You just call them with a list of the random projects that you have ("I need someone to fix this windowsill, that floorboard, and that dishwasher" or whatever) and they match you with the right person, and get it taken care of right away. What a great thing, I decided. I called them and indicated three or four projects that I need help on at home. The most pressing is that next week I'm having the deck pressure washed and sealed, and some minor repairs need to be done beforehand.

It took them a couple of back-and-forth calls to figure out whom to send to my house. A fellow called Dan came over and seemed to have a real clue about home improvement. He gave me a verbal, sort of off-the-record estimate for how much he thinks some of my projects (installing doors and windows, fixing a deck, etc) will cost, but he said he had to go back and discuss these with the managers before offering me a final price. That was last Friday morning.

So yesterday, Monday, I call the company. I hadn't received my estimate. Dan had sort of led me to believe that I would get it later in the day on Friday (which I think is weird in itself, as most are given on the spot). When I called, one of the owners sounded a little put off that I had gotten impatient so soon — "it's only Monday" she said, or something. I had to get a call back from the other owner, who was apparently handling my case, to get the estimates that I needed.

She calls, and is clueless. "Well, project X will take two hours of work. But what's this about a door frame? What about this, er, deck project? Did we have to supply the materials for that?" Errrr, yeah, because I don't have lots of 14-foot slabs of pressure treated wood hanging around the house. Oh, let me call you back tomorrow, she says, I can't really read what this estimate includes and doesn't. Nevermind that one of the window projects that she was able to quote me on was more than what the contractor himself thought it would cost.

I'm frustrated because 1. This is much more work than just having a random handyman come over and give me an estimate — this third person's involvement really complicates things! If you want to streamline this process, just either give your contractor the right to make estimates without your stamp of approval or b. just come with him so that there's no confusion. 2. This is especially all frustrating because the mission or premise of this business is to spare customers the hassle that these women clearly have experienced in the past. If that is the mission, they should be bending over backwards to streamline and make nice, I think. 3. This is a new business trying to build up clients, which means that all the "make nice and streamline" rules should be doubly important, no? How do you expect to build loyal clients if it takes half a week to get a written estimate?

I really want to express my frustrations to them in some nice and constructive way but I don't trust myself not to be a little snippy, after all this. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Closer to zero

Well, I've just paid down $400 on the Amex, bringing the total down to $13,508.60. A month ago it was $15,675.17. Most of the difference has to do with the $1500 or so that I put down courtsey of the tax refund. But I am thrilled that with just $510 or so, I can see that second digit crawl down to 2. It's still a big number but honestly, I'm proud of the progress that only 30 days has meant. sent me a couple of weeks ago an entirely new medicine cabinet (you'll remember this is all because our shelves were chipped). So now we're in the situation of trying to figure out what to do with this whole cabinet, when we only need the shelves.

I think we're almost at $1,000 in mutual funds, just by funneling unnoticeable money away over the past five or six months. It's not much given the time frame, but maybe I'd have spent it on groceries or clothes otherwise, so there.

Financial things might be changing soon--not on these points, but on others that I can't yet talk about. Given that, and given that we have money in the bank, I've felt worse.