Spotlight: Warby Parker

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Two weeks ago I was told that I need to get glasses. I’ve made it to thirty with good vision and I guess it had to happen sometime. I am a member of Kaiser, and I knew from a previous optometrist appointment that they had their own shop with really nice brand name frames. At my appointment, I learned that my plan does not cover the cost of glasses, so I’d have to pay the full price. Most everything I saw and liked was in the $150 range, which I guess isn’t terrible if you’re talking about something that may cure headaches and will be a fixture in your daily accessories for years to come. But I still wanted to do better…and I did!

Every now and then, when I find a company or an affordable product that is particularly good, I want to write about them and let others know. So ladies and gentleman, I give you… Warby Parker.

I bet you will never guess how I discovered this company (unless you look at the photo below). You’re exactly right! I googled “Robin Wright glasses House of Cards” and found an article that showed her in a particular outfit and pointed out the brand of each thing she had on. Pretty crazy, huh? When I went through the series with my husband, I always admired her in the frames and fancied them for myself.

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I went to their website to find a plethora of gorgeous and affordable frames. This company’s entire concept is “to create boutique-quality, classically crafted eyewear at a revolutionary price point.” Quality and a friend to the frugal? Well, well! Say no more WP, that sounds right up my alley. All of their frames are $95 including the prescription lens, tax and shipping. How is that for affordable? Had I bought mine at Kaiser, I’d have spent almost double that amount.

My next step was to find out where in town I could try some of these bad boys on. In true Los Angeles fashion, their only two walk-in locations are inside The Standard Hotel in either downtown or on the Sunset Strip. Sigh. I love this city. For those who don’t know, The Standard Hotel is a very modern, kind of weird, trendy spot. My main memory from the West Hollywood location was entering the lobby and seeing a woman inside of a glass box behind the front counter. She was lying down, or “modeling” as I’m sure they’d say, and playing with her cell phone. I’m not sure if they still do that, but regardless, you now have a clearer picture of the kind of place this is. If you need a clearer one, see below.

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The Standard Hotel lobby

There are also options for those of you who do not live in a big city. On the website, you can order up to five frames to try on at home, free of charge. Once you decide on the one you like, you return them and they get started on your order. Pretty neat. You can also do the virtual try-on, which I think a lot of companies are doing nowadays. Mine wasn’t pretty.

The next day, I trotted downtown and checked out the Warby Parker kiosk at The Standard Hotel. For Angelenos, I’d recommend going to the West Hollywood location, only because it’s an actual store at that hotel. I tried on frame after frame for thirty minutes and finally settled on one I liked. Unfortunately, my round cheeks weren’t suited for the Beckett frames the way Robin Wright’s skinny face and pixie cut were. I can’t imagine why. WE LOOK SO MUCH ALIKE. I paid my $95 flat and was informed the frames would ship to my house! Yet another perk that I was not expecting.

Kaiser had not given a pupil distance measurement with my prescription, so I had to do one myself online through WP’s website. It was pretty high tech if you ask me. It’s like they have thought of everything and made it as user friendly as possible.

But wait, it gets better… when I got my email confirmation of the order, I was informed that because I bought a pair of glasses with them, they were sending one to a person in need. What?! I didn’t even know that was part of the deal!!

Approximately one billion people don’t have access to affordable glasses. Glasses can increase one’s income by 20%, enable students to see a blackboard and offer dignity to those with poor eyesight. Warby Parker works with experienced non-profit partners to ensure that each sale of our frames will give someone in need access to affordable glasses.  

They also allow you to return or exchange the glasses, no questions asked within thirty days of purchase with free shipping. And if you scratch them in the first year, they’ll fix them free of charge. Sounds too good to be true. The glasses arrived last weekend and let me just say, it’s not! I had such a great experience with Warby Parker that I had to share. If you are in the market for new frames that look great and have amazing customer service, look no further than Warby Parker.

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How Much Is Too Much Financial Sharing?

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Many people divulge more than they need to about their financial situations to their friends and family. There was a time when I was one of them. Similar to my last blog post about when to pull out of savings, this is a personal choice and you need to do what makes sense for you. If telling all to your best friend is your mutually agreed upon thing, then go for it. But I would hope being thoughtful about how much you say would be a priority. I’m not saying don’t share, I’m saying don’t be specific.

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“How much do you pay in rent?” Have you ever been asked this? I have, a trillion times–and I’ve answered it far more than I care to admit. I’ve asked people too, but I put that practice to bed in recent years. Honestly, the person who poses this questions is almost always innocently asking; it’s not meant to offend–but I find it so nosey! What does it matter unless you are trying to move into my building? Do you just want to compare your rent to mine and feel good or bad depending on how we measure up against each other? I do not see the point. If you want an apartment in my neighborhood–go online and find one. You don’t need to know how much I pay to do that. I have experienced the negative side of divulging too much in having multiple friends dangle the cost of their place being cheaper than mine in front of me, without actually saying what they pay. I don’t think it’s malicious–but I do find it weird. I guess I should be proud of them for being vague, since that’s the point I’m trying to make. Vagueness is okay.

And don’t get me wrong, I am curious as hell about this sort of thing when I walk into a new place. But that’s what real estate apps and Craigslist are for! I look at houses for rent on CL regularly, so I already have an idea of the market in any given neighborhood around here. Same with real estate. Ask me anything about housing from LA to Eureka and I’ve got an answer. I’ve checked it all out. My point is, if curiosity is really your motive, there are other ways to satisfy that than putting your friend in the awkward position of having to answer this question. I’m guessing people don’t realize it is an uncomfortable thing to ask, and that is why I believe it’s innocent on their part. This then begs the question, how do you deny giving an answer? How does one politely say, “oh, we’re not sharing that information”. There’s no obvious way around this. You wouldn’t ask someone what their mortgage is would you? Or how much their house is worth? Why is it different for renters? It shouldn’t be.

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Let’s get something straight: I care about how much you make. I’m curious, I want to know, but I’ll never, ever ask. If you want to tell me, cool! But I will never, ever tell you. Not because I don’t trust you my beautiful friend, but because I see no reason anyone else needs to know. Aren’t you in essence giving power to the person you relay this to? If they are able to see how well you do, for example, aren’t they better able to judge your subsequent financial decisions? I know what you’re thinking. “Anne is my best friend and would never judge me like that”. You’re wrong. We’re human. If she knows you make $300,000 a year and don’t tithe to your church, she’s judging you (and righteously I might add)! Similarly, if she knows you make $40,000 a year and buy a brand new car with all the upgrades, she’s going to question that. Why give anyone that kind of power over you? Better to let sleeping dogs lie and keep your cool when it comes to sharing this very important and private part of your life.

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If you have one, good for you! If you don’t, apply this to your future self. Similar to your income, sharing this information means putting all your cards on the table. And for what? So people know you have enough saved to pay for your kid’s college? That you are rich? The reverse is also true. In my pre-frugal days, I once had a friend ask me if I had anything saved and I said “no” and she was shocked. It kicked me when I was down and only made me more anxious about my financial situation. You don’t need people knowing if you do or don’t have any money. I know how hard it is to practice this train of thought, but you have nothing to prove.

Debt

This is the one exception I can think of at the moment, however I would say to tread carefully. Debt is a crisis in this country. It is a problem that needs fixing and any advice or help one can get should be taken. If that requires you to divulge what your situation is in terms of a financial collapse, you have my support. I think any sharing with the hope of fixing your situation is good sharing. When I had debt, I told people about it–but it was more complaining. That is not good or productive sharing. When I paid it off, I proudly told people and a few asked how much it had been. I told them and obviously, I did the same here on this blog–but again, the motive matters and this is truly to encourage.

I do not have it all together. I write about money because I love managing it and finding creative ways to make it work for me. But we still struggle, we still overspend and we have to take out of our emergency fund when the going gets tough. I will tell anyone what I spent on a dress or a piece of furniture, because I almost always assume the motive is they want something similar. And those aren’t really “mine to hide”, since if you know I got it at Nordstrom, you can find the price yourself. But I am trying my best to be more tight-lipped when it comes to other areas of finance because I have only seen it as damaging in the past. So there you have it– a few of my standards for social finance. What are your personal boundaries for what is okay to divulge and what isn’t?

 

Not All Cash Is Green: Part Two

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My dear people, I have led you astray. Remember my post about the awesome Staples Rewards program that allows you to earn store credit for recycling your ink cartridges? Much to my dismay, they have changed their policy! Now you must spend $30 in a 180 day window prior to recycling in order to earn your credit. Of course, no one tells you of this change when you go to recycle. They just happily take your cartridges and say you’ll receive an email notifying you of the credited amount to your account. I faithfully recycled my cartridges in February and that day never came. Then the printer ran out of ink, so I called the store and explained that my rewards hadn’t appeared on my account. I was told to go into a branch and a cashier would call the 800 number on my behalf and redeem the credit for me via phone. No mention of, “perhaps you didn’t know, our policy is different than it was last time your recycled with us”.

So, I went into the store to explain the situation and got a blank stare from the cashier–who then called the number anyway, only to find the offices were closed on the weekend. Even the all powerful faceless voice on the other end of the line needs a break every five days. They said there was nothing that they could do until a weekday. Okay, no problem. I’ve been down this road before and it requires patience and perseverance to get the deal. Bring it. Come Monday, I return to Staples and received a similar blank stare from another cashier after explaining what I was told over the phone. She passed me along to the manager who also stared at me until she got on the phone and called Oz. While she was on hold, she finally turned to me and said, “did you spend $30? Because you can’t receive the credit without doing that first.” What?! Since when?! March 2013, apparently. Who knew. Not I, dear reader…and for that, I’m sorry.

blogThe manager handed the phone over to me and the representative said to go ahead and buy something worth $30 or more and that I would then receive my credit. Of course that meant returning to Staples for a third time because the credit wouldn’t appear instantly. My only choices were to cough up the dough, or lose out on the nine cartridges I had already recycled. Before hanging up, I asked the lady if the amount would show up on my account automatically or if there was more action needed on my part. She said it wouldn’t (!) and I’d have to call in again and work it out over the phone. Glad I asked, lady. Then I requested a direct line to call to bypass all the automated stuff. She said there wasn’t one. Normally this would be where I would explain to you the importance of thoroughness when dealing with customer service, but clearly it didn’t pay off in this case. And that is where we left it. I walked over and picked up a couple of cartridges totaling $37 and went on my way.

Cut to today–Thursday. I waited a couple of business days, as I was told to and checked the online account. No rewards credit shown, no problem–she said to expect that (after I asked). I called in and did the little keypad dance, finally getting a hold of a real person. I explained the entire situation and was then informed that both the manager and telephone representatives had miscommunicated the process to me. It didn’t matter if I had spent $37 after recycling, what matters is that I do it before. So you mean I spent $40 and gave you $18 worth of cartridges for…nothing? Luckily, the lady offered to give me a one time courtesy credit and informed me that my $37 will go towards future recycling as long as I do so in the next six months. GEE THANKS. Is it really a courtesy if I actually gave the thing I am receiving credit for?

Needless to say, I will not be returning to Staples for all my recycling needs. You know what else I learned? Office Depot has started doing something similar! In researching alternatives for this article, I found that the competitor will give you points which you can cash in for future purchases if you spend $10 there in the same month that you recycle. It sounds like the incentive here is they want you to be a regular customer, not just some mooch trying to score an easy deal. Psh. How dare they threaten my frugal ways! Is there any place that simply pays you for recycling anymore? The answer is yes. For now. Apparently OfficeMax still does. They have a program called MaxPerks where you can bring in any brand cartridge and receive $2 in store credit per cartridge. We’ll see how long it takes for them to jump on the “you have to spend money here too”, bandwagon.

I found a number of online companies that will pay for you to ship them the cartridges, so long as you have a certain number to send at once; most require somewhere in the 20-30 range. Since I have not personally tried any of these, I am weary to suggest any. But I stumbled upon this article by The Krazy Coupon Lady, who has some wonderful suggestions for online options.

I’m beginning to think I should start blogging about my interactions with customer service rather than frugality. The silver lining in all this is that in true Sara style–I am taking back one of the cartridges I bought on Monday and returning it. Then repurchasing it with my rewards dollars so that I get $18 back. Got you there, Staples! So I will have only “wasted” $19 on this adventure, which doesn’t bother me as much as $37 did. That is, if you call paying for ink a waste of money, which I do. With Earth Day coming next Tuesday, this is the perfect week to share your ink recycling tips with our readers. Please share if you have found a place to do it and how it worked out for you. Happy recycling!

Aiming High For Payday

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A lined script, part of my job as a Script Supervisor

This is so not an article about unequal pay in the work place. Not even close. This is more of an opportunity for me to celebrate with you, my fellow finance lovers that I just successfully negotiated higher pay! Well, sort of.

I am a Script Supervisor in the entertainment industry, which means I track continuity and take notes for editorial. I sit with the director as an adviser of sorts and pretty much note everything he or she says so that the editor better knows how to cut the film. I am freelance and under no contract except the one I sign at the start of each new project. Unfortunately, I am rarely bold when it comes to asking for pay. Within reason, I almost always take whatever rate the producer has set up for me because I want the job. If it is a union gig, the amount is generous and this strategy is not a problem. But it is a different story in the non-union world, where anything goes.

I am at a point in my career where I have done enough stuff that I should be earning more than I do when I work. I seem to be stuck around the same figure and working the same low-budget independent films every year. Don’t get me wrong… I like the heart behind them and it’s always very rewarding when they get distributed or are buzzed about by critics. But in the film business, we work very long hours, so even if a certain figure per day sounds decent– you are talking about a fourteen hour day. It’s really not that much when you divide it by the hours worked.

Another important factor is knowing that what a producer offers you is indicative of what the shoot will be like. If it’s a super low amount, you can bet the food will be bad, the crew around you inexperienced (or bitter because they have experience and are working for low pay) and the commute longer because the location scout booked spots on the outskirts of town to save money. I actually turned down a producer last winter who has given me some of the most successful films in my career to date. He always offers the same amount, and I have to beg him to get the prep days I need every. single. time. It’s not worth it to fight for something with someone who does not care about what you do. He knows you have to do the work no matter what and is hoping to get it for free. All this to say, I am at a turning point in my career where I know my value and I’m willing to stand up for myself.

Today’s victory was small, but big in the grand scheme of things. As I mentioned, my asking price hovers around the same mark for most films. Yesterday I interviewed for one and the director offered me the job on the spot. Beforehand, I had emailed the production coordinator my rate. I aimed high for a non-union film, asking for the appropriate number of prep days, the kit rental I’m entitled to and the day rate I found reasonable. For those who are curious, a kit rental is asking production to pay you for use of items you own and need to do your job. In essence, they are renting these things from you so they don’t have to find them elsewhere. In my case, this includes my ipad, camera, laptop and igrabber for stills. In other departments, it could be tape, pens, flash lights, gloves, make-up or hair supplies. Prep days are what I take to learn the script and do extensive breakdowns in order to track continuity. My position is one that is expected to know a script better than the writer. In order to become that intimate with a story, it takes time. You can see why it would be so easy to take advantage of needing prep for something that is mostly cerebral. I can’t show a producer the set I built when I’m done like the art department, or the shopping receipts and wardrobe fittings I did as a stylist. But what I do is crucial to my not making a mistake during filming, and that is often overlooked.

Today the producer told me she had reviewed my email and could not go as high as I had asked, but was able to pay me close to it. She added more money for the second camera which will be used during filming; a practice I’ve only seen on union shows. In my experience, it’s usually offered for third and fourth cameras, as every camera after the first doubles, triples a Script Supervisor’s workload. She gave me one day shy of what I had hoped for in terms of prep days and didn’t address the kit rental situation, so I did. I got the normal response about the budget, how everyone else is making less and just happy and excited to be working together, etc. I can’t tell you how many times this exact speech has been made. Producers need to get together and discuss this so they stop saying the same ineffective things! We see through your sneaky ways! I pushed back and she said she’d talk it over with her other producer. We hung up.

My stomach was turning while I waited. I was actually nervous. I instantly regretted it and thought, “am I about to lose this job over a kit rental?”

A friend once told me that after naming your price in an interview, to pause. This has always stuck with me as a tactic. Be confident in what you want and look them in the eye like you deserve it. If you stay quiet long enough, they have to speak–and often times, what comes out will be in your favor. I can’t tell you how many times this has saved me in negotiations. I did no different here and it paid off. Well, sort of.

The producer called back and told me they could not do the kit rental and that if I wouldn’t do the movie, they would understand. What she didn’t know, was inside I was already victorious because I was making more than I had ever made on a feature film before. Plus, I thought maybe I had just lost the job. A camera bump for two cameras? Hello! It might as well have been a kit rental because it was for the same amount I was hoping to receive. We did a verbal handshake and I signed on to script supervise the film.

Even though I did not get exactly what I had set out for, I came very close and am still thrilled with the results. The point of aiming high is that when they counter-offer, it’s still very satisfying because the amount you asked for was unrealistic, even to you. If I had left it up to the production, they would have offered less. This was a great step for my future confidence in negotiating pay, but the real lesson is to aim high and know that the worst thing is they say no. That is what happened here and I’m still walking away with a smile.

 

A Free Day In Charleston

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Angel Oak Tree

Last week I had the pleasure of taking a vacation to the South with my husband. I’m sure you were checking my blog daily and wondering why I wasn’t updating it. You poor thing, here I am! We spent three days in Charleston, South Carolina and another three in Savannah, Georgia. It was beautiful, historical and culturally different from what we’re used to here in California. For starters, nothing is as old here as it is there. In Los Angeles, I’m excited if I am in a building from the 1920’s. In South Carolina, they’re serving ice cream in one from the 1690’s. I made a point to note the free things we accomplished in order to write a blog post continuing the series I started last month about my trip to San Francisco. So, for those who may find themselves in this neck of the woods, here are some great ideas for an activity-rich day in a very special place.

The Angel Oak Tree on John’s Island is a bit of a drive out of Charleston proper, but is well worth it! This massive piece of nature is between 400 and 500 years old and its longest branch is 187 feet. Trust me when I say, that is looooong. No admission is required to view, plus there is the added bonus of driving through the low country and checking out a totally different vibe from downtown. You take an old dirt, tree-lined path to get there. It’s quite a sight, as many a branch has grown into the ground. I felt a little scared by its presence, if you must know.

Kings Street was the center of commerce back in the day, and not much has changed presently in that sense. I’m assuming there was no Kate Spade there during the Civil War, but you know, otherwise it’s the same. You’ll find all sorts of smaller, local shops like bookstores and honey makers along this narrow road, sprinkled with more upscale ones like Louis Vuitton. It reminded me a lot of shopping on a London Street. But after a certain hour, it all becomes quiet except for one stretch of bars and restaurants that seem to be a college hotspot. I don’t know about you, but I quite enjoy window-shopping in any city. It doesn’t really make a difference if I buy something.

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Blue Bicycle Books

This next one was special. We went to check out a local coffee shop and stumbled upon the Old Charleston Jail that just happened to be in the neighborhood. Let me start by saying this would never happen in California. I have no photos of this amazing experience because I was too awe-struck by it all to stop and take one. We wandered in, noticing the front was wide open, only to discover what looked like wood shop class taking place to our right. Okay, that’s curious. A historic monument that doubles as woodworking studio? We walked upstairs, where my husband noticed there was a full (and active!) library. No one seemed to mind us poking around, so we went inside, completely baffled by the number of books in a room with bars for doors. The further we went down the hall, the more it sounded like a lecture was being given…and sure enough, there was a full class in session in this small, stone room that once held Charleston’s most infamous criminals. I later learned that the American College of the Building Arts has taken over the property and is slowly restoring it while running some schooling there. A pretty cool free find and dare I say a “must see”.

Old Charleston Jail. Photo by Flyway.

Old Charleston Jail. Photo by Flyway.

The Battery and White Point Gardens are bordered by a seawall facing the Cooper and Ashley Rivers’ meeting point. It is famous for its historic and stunning antebellum homes. Oh yeah, and you can see Fort Sumter, where the first shot of the Civil War was fired. Maybe that’s why it’s actually famous. A lot of important events took place in this district during the Civil War and it’s worth a walk to take it all in and say you did it.

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White Point Gardens

Rainbow Row is for some reason an attraction. And for some reason I’m mentioning it. Oh yeah, cause it’s free. As you may have guessed, I’m talking about a row of multicolored houses. Cool? We drove by it, (which isn’t hard to do if you’re trying to get to the Battery), but we have no idea why we needed to see it. They are subtly painted in a way that would not stand out unless you knew to look for it. Now you know.

Walk places. We stumbled upon galleries having parties and took in some of the local art and social scene, which never would have

One of many art galleries in town

One of many art galleries in town

happened had we been in a car. It is also possible to avoid paying for tours by just scoping out the building itself. A great example of this is the The Old Exchange Building you see pictured below. That balcony is where they read the Declaration of Independence to Charleston. And you can see it just by walking by! As someone who did take a tour of the inside, I can tell you that you wouldn’t be missing much by forgoing the expense. Read Yelp reviews and see if the cost is really worth it for knowledge gained. I can tell you The Slave Mart is a “must skip” for this very reason.

Don’t get me wrong, you are going to have to spend a little money if you want to go on vacation anywhere. And we certainly did; we ate out every meal and paid for museums, tours and bought some souvenirs. But the point is, you can avoid a lot of cost if you research where you’re going ahead of time. You will likely find plenty of opportunities for memorable experiences that do not require your wallet! A free vacation day is attainable no matter where you go. Try making that a goal next time you leave town and see where it takes you.

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The Old Exchange Building