Wednesday, September 1, 2010

In < 3 with a bank

Dear Readers,

I am in love.

A few weeks ago, I saw an ad for Danversbank at the Hynes stop on the Green Line. 4% interest on a checking account! I'm sorry? I had come to believe that 4% was an antique and sepia toned legend. A brief and sweet moment of history back in 2007 when I opened an ING account, fed it $40 a week, and watched it blossom. Then 4% shriveled to to 3%. Then 2.5%. Now it is 1.1%.

So guess where my money is going.

A crew of scrappy, small, but competitive banks have started offering high interest checking accounts to the tune of 2, 3, or even 4%. Danversbank and Cambridge Savings are two banks local to the Boston area, but there are surprisingly many other options out there. In general you need to jump through a few hoops to get the rate (Danversbank wants me to complete 12 debit transactions each month, set up direct deposit or monthly ACH transanctions, and sign up for online banking), but once you complete their terms you are rewarded with that juicy interest rate. And if some months I don't meet the requirements for whatever reason, Danversbank will pay me .25% interest instead. Which is .25% more than Sovereign Bank ever paid me for the privilege of babysitting my cash.

Here are some other great things about this high interest checking phenomenon:
  • I no longer care when my checks are cashed. If my landlord wishes to hang on to my $ until next year, that's fine, because I'm earning interest on it.
  • I no longer worry about bouncing checks, because I'm keeping a lot more in my checking account rather than try to keep it earning interest in a savings account until the last possible second. You can keep up to $25,000 in the Danversbank account and still earn the 4%.
  • I have written out all of my bills for the month, including quarterly taxes, and stuck them into envelopes which are sitting on my desk. I have written on my calendar the last possible day when I'll need to mail them. I will hang onto them until that day, and earn interest until that day.
  • And not so relevant to finances, but a nice perk: The Danversbank vestibule is air conditioned all the time. Wasteful? Perhaps. But a lovely touch when it's still 94 degrees at 7:30pm.

Yes folks, checking accounts are sexy again.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Borrow, Share, and Stop Buying More Stuff

Once upon a time, in college, I lived in a cooperative house with 24 other women. While the occasional dramas did occur, we generally lived in a semi-Utopian state of cooking, cleaning, studying, and getting into an appropriate amount of mischief together.

One of the greatest things about living with 23 other ladies is that we all had access to 23 other wardrobes. Most residents were approximately the same size, and most seemed to possess a similar American-girl-who-studies-abroad-Bohemian-chic aesthetic. With the general feeling of cooperativeness in the air, we all got to be pretty generous with our stuff and an open-closet policy reigned. I knew that if I didn't currently possess the perfect scarf or necklace to polish off an outfit, somebody else did and would happily share. A single flattering dress might travel to 10 different events on 10 different wearers in a semester. Size 8 black flats were the gift that kept on giving.

Unfortunately, I graduated.

I immediately felt the pinch. In the real world, in my apartment shared with craigslist strangers, my wardrobe and options shrank. I didn't really have that much more money, or any more closet space, but all I had were my own sorry clothes. I resented every time I had to invest in yet another pair of fancy shoes to match some dress that I would probably wear twice. I carried the same neutral bag always. I started wearing four go-to outfits over and over, wondering if everyone who had to look at me was as bored with my clothes as I was. My only good solution was to move to Belize for awhile, where no one gave a sh*t when I wore the same pair of shorts all week.

But this post is not specifically about clothes. It's about following the shining example of the cooperative house, expanding your options, and getting what you need without spending extra cash.

In your 20s, there are so many occasions, trips, adventures, etc. which require special equipment or clothes. Which in turn, requires spending extra money on something you may not really need more than once or twice. I encourage everyone to take a moment and reflect on how you can pool your resources with your friends, roommates, family, coworkers. Here, for example, is a list of some things I have borrowed this year, and approximate money I have saved:

Roommate's Car for trip to NH ($140 in car rental)
Tent ($70 - $100)
Dry bags ($70)
Cocktail dress for wedding ($100)
Rucksack for checking my backpack and its flailing straps to Honduras ($35)
Hot rollers ($25)
Studio apartment in NYC (I have no idea. Astronomical)
Sari ($100?)
Books (from the library and friends) ($$$$$$$) (yes this totally counts).

Here are some things I have loaned:

Sport sandals ($50)
Sleeping bag ($75)
Sleeping bag compression sack ($25)
Cocktail dress ($110)
Headlamp ($30)
Dressy flats ($65)

As you can see, my generous friends and I have saved ourselves a fair amount of cash this way. And in addition to keeping your money in your wallet, you'll also prevent yourself from acquiring lots and lots of crap that you will one day have to move. Trust me, if you saw my parents' basement, you would understand why this is important.

So go forth, borrow, loan, and stop acquiring extra junk! And keep in mind these few tips:

1. Return stuff in good condition. Dry clean saris, sweep out tents, and replace batteries.
2. Be just as willing to share as you are to borrow.
3. If you need something and you don't know where to start, try posting something on facebook, twitter, and all that other social media crap. You might be surprised at the responses you get.
4. Respect people's boundaries. For example, my roommate is very generous with her car, but I wouldn't ask to borrow her clothes. Just how it is.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Row Row Row Your -- Invasive Water Chestnut Right Out of the Charles

Many of you may already know that volunteering can be a great way to have unique experiences for free, free, free. This week I offer you a real gem: Undo a hostile plant takeover while paddling blissfully down the Charles.

The Charles River Watershed Association and Charles River Canoe and Kayak have partnered in an effort to rid that Dirty Water of invasive wild water chestnuts. How the chestnuts got there, I do not know, nor do I know if they are the tasty kind which can be added to salads or noodles. But I do know that volunteers are needed on June 13, June 26, and July 17, 2010 to yank these sneaky plants out before they drop seed in August.

You receive training and pull out plants from 10am - 2pm. In return, you get four hours in a canoe on the scenic Chuck (CRCK usually charges up to $96 per day for the privilege). And you can go back anytime for free canoe rental, as long as you promise to pull out more plants as you go.

Good deal, no? Do some good, and get a free canoe rental. Sign up with the CRWA at I will see you on the water!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Við skulum fara í bíó!

That means, "Let's go to the movies!" in Icelandic.

One of my favorite books told me that Iceland is among the happiest countries in the world, and sounds like this week they are bringing the cheer to Beantown.

Icelandair and Iceland, Naturally are sponsoring an event called "A Taste of Iceland" in Boston which beings this afternoon. Icelandic DJs will spin at Middlesex on March 11, The Globe Corner Bookstore wants to offer you discounts on Iceland books and maps, somebody named Mugison (described as the Icelandic Beck) is performing at the Middle East on March 14, and there will be an Icelandic guest chef at Rustic Kitchen March 11 - 17. Tonight (get ready for the free stuff), not one but TWO Icelandic films will show gratis at the Kendall Square Cinema starting at 6:15pm.

Ég mun sjá þig þar: I will see you there!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Feel Good Friday Evening - MIT Energy Showcase

Hobnob with smarty-pants types, learn all about sustainable energy solutions, and enjoy cocktails and snacks at the MIT Energy Showcase tonight, Friday March 5, from 5pm - 8pm at the Sheraton Boston Hotel.

Exhibits will be organized by category, including Bioenergy & Transportation; Nuclear & Geothermal, Grid, Energy Efficiency & Management; Storage & Fuel Cells; Fossil Fuels & Emissions Reduction; Government, Policy & NGO; Solar; Wind & Wave; and the MIT Clean Energy Prize. There is also a pretty sweet Formula 3 race car which is, like me, powered by chocolate.

The Energy Showcase is free and open the public.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ode to the Boston Public Library

Whether you march into the modern (as in, 1960s modern) cement doorway on Boylston, or prance up the granite steps to the ornate original entrance on Dartmouth Street, this is a building you should visit frequently. Here is a list, in no particular order, of why I love the Boston Public Library.

  • Free access to books, audio books, internet, magazines, newspapers, DVDs, CDs, and restrooms. Cheapskates love free! And overdue fines, at least for books, are $0.10 per day, $5 max per item.
  • Nowhere else do I feel as smart or as productive as I do when I work in Bates Hall. There is something about those vaulted ceilings, those green shaded lamps, those 60 other studious people giving me a dirty look if I so much as cough...
  • For the three months of the year when its fountain is not frozen, the courtyard of the library is a delightful place to read, type on your laptop, sketch, bring a date with a picnic lunch, and pretend you are in Rome.
  • If you bring your laptop, the internet is free all over the building. Free, free, free. If you don't have a laptop, you can sign up at the library to use their computers (for free) for 1-hour blocks.
  • Despite cutbacks all over America, the BPL still keeps respectable hours of 9 - 9 Monday - Thursday, 9 - 5 on Friday and Saturday, and 1 - 5 on Sundays in the winter.
  • Lazy readers can request materials from any branch using the online catalog. (I am currently 83rd in line for "The Happiness Project", but "The Audacity of Hope" was available immediately... What does that say?) Books will be held for you at the branch of your choice for a week until you can pick them up. And they will email you when the book is there. Such service!
  • Yes, as mentioned above, they have DVDs, CDs, and other forms of media. It's a pain in the a** to dig through their stacks, but if you request them online, they will be ready and waiting for you! Watching all seven seasons of the West Wing this way definitely beat streaming grainy, pirated versions online.
  • Free Art & Architecture tours of the Main Library are offered almost daily. Be a nerd by yourself, or unburdern yourself for the afternoon and send your visiting parents.
  • In addition to the library on Boylston, there are 26 other branches, and you probably live near one of them.
  • The BPL Main Branch offers frequent (free) speakers, events, and exhibits, including my recent favorite: Arthur Frommer's presentation on the 10 best and worst recent developments in travel. All of the upcoming gems are listed on their home page.
  • If they don't have what you're looking for, chances are the BPL can find it for you. They are part of a huge regional interlibrary loan system and the Boston Library Consortium which covers just about every library around here except Harvard's.
Convinced? Still don't have a library card? All you need to take advantage of these wonderful perks that your tax dollars pay for is some ID indicating that you are a current Mass resident. Hop to it!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Free Friday Night Flick: Indiana Jones

What: Free Friday Night Flick, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Where: On the Esplanade in front of the Hatch Shell
When: August 21st, Sundown
Bring: Blanket, snacks, friends, cleverly concealed beverages