Negotiating 101

Negotiating is a skill lawyers need, right? I've certainly had my fair share this week.

Spring fever results in my annual reorganization of the furniture and purging of the clutter. This year hubby is quite pleased that it does not involve him taking things to good will. There really isn't enough to do a garage sale this year either so he's even more pleased. No, we're not simply throwing things away. We're freecycling instead. Hoards of people slam me with e-mails with sob stories on why they need my tv with the broken speakers and I either select the one with the best story or be democratic and give it to the first one who asks. You come to my house and pick it up and haul it off yourself, no effort from me other than a short e-mail exchange.

This year the freecycling frenzy reached new heights as we had appliances to get rid of. We were going to pay the property taxes for our parents who own our house as a thank you for letting us live there. Then we got to thinking that we wanted to make some improvements, but it felt like such a waste to spend money on a place that wasn't ours. So we compromised and will spend the equivalent amount of the property taxes on improvements. His parents still pay the taxes, but they reap the benefits of any increases in property value resulting from the improvements and we get to enjoy living in a nicer place while we're here.

First order of business was replacing a couple ancient, most definitely non Energy-Star appliances. I spent two weeks going back and forth between Lowes and Sears who were both having 10% off appliance deals and finally decided that new appliances were too much. I ended up negotiating for a discontinued model (2007 model vs. 2008 model) fridge and range, which were both the last one in stock. I got the 10% off for the appliance sale and then negotiated another 10% off for taking the perfectly good floor model. It really isn't fair to pay the same price for something that isn't brand-spanking new as something still in the box was my argument and I was totally surprised when they accepted it without balking at all. I should have asked for more. So the $2,499 fridge was on sale as a discontinued model for $2,199, then the sales associate took 20% off because they couldn't figure out how to do 10% and then 10% so the final price was $1,759 or a total of $740 off the retail price two weeks earlier. The fridge is probably more fancy than we need, but we insisted on a few criteria which drive up the price. It had to be Energy-Star and it had to be a good brand and 25 cubic feet. Our current fridge is just a fridge with a tiny ice box large enough for two or three ice-cube trays. This necessitates or running a full size freezer all year to keep our few frozen veggies and pizzas in. We wanted to get rid of both and just go with one appliance which would be large enough for all cooled food in one place. It might be more than we need, but it just reduced the overall budget that we're spending on other improvements. Now I just need to figure out how to run a water line to the new ice-maker. Range was a similar story, took a floor model at a better discount than one of the scratch-and-dent returns, got 20% the sale price and walked out the door spending $599 instead of $999. Really, how much difference can there be in fridge and range technology between 2007 and 2008?

Now I just have to negotiate the feeding frenzy of e-mails seeking our old appliances and coordinate their removal to coincide with the arrival of the new beauties in such a way that I don't end up with a cooler full of rotten food on my hands.

I'll have to post later on other more labor intensive improvements like lighting and our current struggle...wallpaper removal. It's enough to make one want to rent forever!


Public Law Library

LexisNexis and Westlaw have controlled the information at too high a price for to long. It's about time that technology stepped in and helped make freely available information accessible to the common man.

Via: Popgadget, by hoyun kim

"Despite advances made in search technology on the Web, and websites guiding users through the morass of information on specialized topics like medicine, information available on the Web about legal topics is still fairly hard to find for most people outside of the legal profession. Lawyers know that, in addition to costy databases such as LexisNexis and Westlaw, there are numerous free information sources online, but there's no obvious starting point for non-lawyers looking for basic information about a given legal topic, such as the requirements to set up a business in a particular state or how to draft a will.

Nolo, a company that publishes legal guidebooks and software packages for non-lawyers (as well as for lawyers venturing into areas where they're not experienced), offers a fairly comprehensive list of topics in their catalog, along with some useful broad summaries of subjects like trademarks and copyrights, but it's not a portal to other resources on the Web.

Bookofjoe (the blogging anesthesiologist) points us to the new Public Library of Law (short name "PLoL"), launched by Fastcase in an effort to "democratize the law." Fastcase is a legal research database for lawyers, so my guess is that much of the information available in the PLoL is redirected from the free areas of Fastcase. The forms database includes free forms for filing bankruptcy, selling a home, and incorporating a business. Other areas within PLoL include caselaw, statutes, regulations, and court rules. With complicated matters, you may still find that you need to hire a lawyer, but you'll be better informed about what the lawyer has to do if you do your own research first. "


Easter Temptations

First comes lent, then comes Holy Week, and finally Easter. During lent temptations are easier to avoid, moral support is plentiful and people are good about not forcing you to break into the bag of Easter M&M's they are sharing. I actually got all the way through Easter without buying junk candy. Why should I pay $6.00 for mediocre dark chocolate, just because it's shaped like a bunny? I even held out and didn't buy any Cadbury eggs. These eggs are my arch-nemesis this time of year. I always promise myself just one and that leads to more. But this year I survived, I bought none. But the Easter bunny had it in for me. An innocent looking orange plastic egg was sitting on my keyboard when I got to work today. Inside was a baby Cadbury egg. I had no idea they had baby size. *sigh* For 30 seconds it was so good and now all I can think about is more. This is especially bad because Easter candy is now on sale. Where have you been my whole life, baby eggs? Now if they came in dark chocolate I would be well and truly toast in the self-control department.


St. Patty's Day in Chicago, So What?

I spent last Friday through Sunday in Chicago at a meeting. I was kind of excited to be in the windy city for St. Patty's day, especially with a group of people my own age. Turns out the windy city was colder than Anchorage, Alaska the entire time I was there and my fall coat which I packed assuming anything would be warmer than Alaska was VERY inadequate. First thing I did was go out for a little retail therapy (a tradition any time I leave the State), buy a jacket and a scarf. I should have probably picked up a hat as well. My poor ears were frozen. As a result I ducked in and out of shops to warm my ears as I strolled the magnificent mile. Shopping with a bunch of Europeans is more fun these days. They all have different taste depending on their home country and their money is worth more so they feel like everything is on sale in the US. One of the guys lost his luggage on the way through Frankfurt so he needed new clothes, he had $100 from Lufthansa and they would reimburse 50% of whatever he spent before his clothes arrived. I worked out most of my retail therapy helping him blow some cash with Euros and a 50% discount.

I know that those who love Chicago will not be happy with me for this, but your city is not the best place to spend St. Patty's day. I was in Boston last year and New Orleans the year before and they really upstaged you guys. Sure, you dye your river green and that is pretty cool, but you totally don't know how to party. If your idea of a party is for every bar to have shamrock decorations then I guess you succeeded. I was hoping for a little less sitting around drinking and more holiday spirit. Boston had one of the worst blizzards in years last year and they still came out in droves to celebrate. We hit bars three nights in a row and they were all just sitting around with no good music and absolutely no dancing. I'm not a drinker so that was just lame. And don't try telling me I was at the wrong bars, we went to all of the ones on the top 10 list of best Irish pubs as well as those recommended by the Chicago conventions and visitors bureau for best places to celebrate St. Patty's day so your own advertising is to blame. Ultimately we found a way better bar, but by 1:30 it wasn't worth the $20 cover to get in. Surely you can do better than that in a city that big. Anyway, your shopping is great, but I don't have much to say for your Irish spirit. And what is with the lack of cabs? You can safely assume putting a few more people on shift during that particular weekend would be worthwhile. Oh well, pictures of green river forthcoming.


March Lunch Challenge

Another law school blogger is staying frugal by packing her lunch to school everyday. This helps avoid junk food in the diet and saves money. I am attempting to not eat out for lunch the entire month of March. Part of it is an attempt to have healthier dinners which result in healthy leftovers, part of it is to save money, and part of it is to use up the box of nutrisystem food that has been sitting in my pantry for WAY too long. When I was an intern in D.C. without a car I figured nutrisystem was the perfect solution. I couldn't buy groceries more than a bag or two at a time so I would have all of my food delivered. Turns out, in addition to the food that they send you you have to buy salad fixings, veggies, cheeses, and other groceries. By the time I added it all up I was spending as much on groceries as before, plus I had to pay for the nutrisystem stuff. I also hated quite a few of the dishes so I mailed those back. Heads up, if you ever try this system, don't buy the scrambled eggs, just buy eggs and cook them yourself, blech. Sometimes I eat out because hubby doesn't pack a lunch and calls me up wanting to go somewhere. It's hard to turn him down and leave him there to starve when I have the car. Also, going out to lunch is a nice mental break and way to get away from the office. Sure, it takes an hour rather than thirty minutes so I only bill 8 hours rather than 8.5 in a day, but bonus checks aren't everything. Once the snow melts I should be able to achieve the same mental break and still bring my lunch by going outside to eat it. In the meantime, we'll see how this experiment works. Maybe when hubby calls I'll pick him up, take him to the house and make him something. That or I'll have to start getting up earlier so that he can drop me off before he goes to work and he'll have the car.


Russia's new Pres.

Unlike US politics this year where the nominees in both parties are taking far longer to determine than usual, in Russia today, in a surprise to nobody. Medvedev (pronounced Med-ved-yev) won the Russian presidential election. He is the chosen successor to the wildly popular Putin. Most people in Russia know very little about him other than that Putin said to vote for him and they trust Putin so they did. As a Russian Studies major I feel obliged to at least mark the event with a post. What remains to be seen is if this is a temporary post for one term of office before a return of Putin to power (which wouldn't violate their constitution) or whether Medvedev will be his own man with his own policies. Medvedev is a lawyer with a background in the legal rather than spy fields unlike Putin with his KGB background. I can only hope that this will result in more of a strict interpretation of Russian laws and less consolidation of power within the Presidential office and clamping down on individual freedoms. I really respect what Putin has done for his country, guiding them from a time of economic troubles to a much more stable and prominent place in the international community. I hope that his goals will be furthered under Medvedev, but with a focus on more enabling of people and companies to determine their best courses of action with less state interference, censorship, etc. towards that better future. Another interesting point is that 2/3rds of eligible voters participated in what was essentially a rubber stamp election. If we had that kind of turn-out in the US it would be phenomenal. It shows that Russian's really care about the direction of their country, even if they don't care if they know that much about the person selected by Putin to take them there.



Spring Fever

As I was driving to work yesterday I realized that the sun was shining right in my eyes and I actually needed to put the visor down and was wishing my sunglasses were in my purse. Wow, what a difference an hour makes. I usually head to work at 8, which is still before the sun is up at this time of the year. I worked out on Friday morning so I was heading to work right before 9. It was like plugging my body in and feeling my batteries recharge. I love this time of year when the days are visibly getting longer and I actually have some daylight left after I get off of work. One of the things I miss most about being in college is having time during a weekday to be out and about in the winter, enjoying the little sunlight that we get.

The other impact of all this unshine is my annual spring fever urge to purge has hit. I want my house to feel less like a cacoon which I curl up in to keep warm and comfortable all winter and more like a zen chic, clean modern home with no clutter, no mess, and far less stuff than I currently own. We're still purging items that we inherited over 2 years ago from hubby's Grandmother. After cleaning random bits of the house and setting Roomba to work I had a box of paperbacks and a trash bag of clothes to purge. Probably not enough for a garage sale so I'll be taking them off to charity on Monday. I also got a magazine today which had all sorts of articles on living in smaller spaces and making the most of them. Rather than having a McMansion with lots of space that never gets used with rooms that you barely see week in and week out (aka our current office and laundry/bonus rooms) these homes were designed to be utilized thoroughly with thoughtful design making each space an important part of the house. When I visualize my "dream house" this is totally what I picture, smaller, cozier, and with a very thoughtful design aka The Not So Big House books style.

I kind of have to keep my stuff to a minimum with the move to law school not too far off in the distant future. There is no way I'll be schleping shelves and shelves of paperbacks, engineering textbooks, or outsized clothing with me half-way across the planet. Of course, it pains me to admit defeat and get rid of my skinny clothes, so until the time that I actually have movers at my house giving me an estimate on how much it would cost to bring it all with me I'll probably still have an itty bitty sundress from Senior year of highschool.

I've always loved small spaces. I have a friend with a 600 sq-ft condo in D.C. which I love. Her house has only things that she really really loves. She'll never have a reason to go on the show Clean Sweep to cleanse her house of clutter. When she gets the shopping urge she doesn't stock up on cheap tank tops at Old Navy, I on the other hand have a whole stack of them. Instead she impulse buys beauty products which get used and thrown away and her clothes are minimal because she only buys really nice stuff. I have a really hard shoe size so whenever I find a brand that has my size I go nuts and buy way more than I need. As a result, I have more shoes than people who have easier to find shoe sizes because I impulse buy them. My friend with the tiny apartment doesn't buy crap, instead her closets are full of a few very expesive Louis Voutton's, Jimmy Choo, etc. shoes, nice suits, and very classic clothes, which in comparison to all my bulk (current and already donated) probably cost the same, but look way better. I'm hoping to be more like my D.C. diva and stop buying crap. To that end, I have the annual spring fever purge ahead of me. The days are getting longer and it is getting easier to have the energy to excercize, so maybe this will be my year to fit into the sun dress again. Hmm...come to think of it, that dress isn't that great, I'll probably donate it as soon as I fit back into it. Perhaps its time has come.