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  • Review: ING Direct

    I know I was waaay late opening an account with online bank ING Direct. In the world of high rate savings accounts, the best rates are almost invariably online, yet I avoided opening such an account because Marc and I didn’t want to complicate our finances.

    What changed our mind last year was the financial instability of several major brick and mortar banks. Suddenly, diversifying our accounts seemed more important than being able to track them in the easiest way possible. After all, even though our accounts were all FDIC-insured, we didn’t want to be in the position of not having access to enough money to pay a month’s worth of bills. It didn’t seem likely to happen, but we didn’t want to take any chances.

    A friend happened to ask for an Ebates referral and mention her ING Direct account in the same conversation. So we traded referrals: she signed up for Ebates through the link in the email I sent her, and we both got a bonus. And I opened an ING Direct Orange Savings account through the link in the email she sent to me, and we each got another bonus.

    I have to say, though, that after reading all of the positive reviews about ING Direct on just about every personal finance blog, that I thought ING Direct would be easier to use. For instance, one of the reasons I was happy to have an ING Direct account was that I knew it was possible to set up “subaccounts” – an easy way to keep track of money intended for a specific purpose. But I couldn’t figure out how to do it just by looking at the web site – I actually had to do a search for instructions (I found good ones at I’ve Paid for This Twice Already and Five Cent Nickel).

    I also opened an Electric Orange checking account in November, when there was a bonus of $50 for new accounts when you used your debit card for three signature-based transactions. The best part of the checking account turned out to be that debit card – it’s a Mastercard, so I was thrilled to have it when I needed a Mastercard to take advantage of a special promotion at CVS.com in December.

    To be honest, I wouldn’t go out of my way to open these accounts – especially with interest rates plummeting as they have over the last few weeks. The rate on the Orange Savings account is just 2.2% – better than most brick and mortar banks, and better than my credit unions too. But you can get 2.6% at FNBO, so there are still better rates out there. The rate on the Electric Orange account is a mere 0.5% – better than nothing, which is what I get for my brick and mortar checking, but I hardly keep any money in my checking accounts anyway. (They do offer up to 2.5% for higher balances, but who keeps more than $100,000 in a checking account?!)

    But overall, I’m very happy with our ING accounts. The $25 bonus I got for opening the savings account through my friend’s referral link more than makes up for any interest I’m losing by not moving to a bank like FNBO. We’ve accomplished our mission of diversifying our emergency fund, and I’ve created a subaccount to hold the money that I’d originally intended to send toward my student loans. When there’s enough in the subaccount to pay off my loans in full, I’ll send in one large balloon payment unless things have changed between now and then. And I now have a Mastercard, which allows me to take advantage of certain shopping deals.

    Note: I’m not an ING affiliate, and I have no relationship with FNBO. If you’d like to learn more about Ebates, read my original review.

    Update to Graco Nautilus Review

    As you might recall, we were rear-ended back in November and needed to get new car seats. I first tried the Sunshine Radian and hated it because I couldn’t get it to fit right.

    I ended up with two Graco Nautilus seats, which I liked. But after less than one month, the belt on one of the Nautilus seats began to fray – and since it was the belt that you pull to tighten the harness, it would get stuck and the belt would be impossible to tighten or loosen. In other words, the seat became unusable. (See photo.)

    If this had been my only Nautilus seat, or if the problem had happened with both seats, I probably would have demanded a full refund from Graco so that I could go purchase a Britax Regent.

    But since the other Nautilus has been fine, I was willing to give Graco the benefit of the doubt and assume the problem was unique to the car seat that we’d bought. I contacted them through their web site, explained the problem, offered to send photos, and asked for a replacement seat. The next day, I received a response requesting the photos. The day after I sent the photos, I received an email stating that the replacement parts had been sent.

    Since I had asked for a new seat, I wasn’t exactly sure what “parts” to expect. But I’d forgotten that the Nautilus isn’t just a car seat, it’s convertible to a booster. So what arrived was the booster part of the seat, and all I had to do was remove the back from the old booster seat and attach it to the new one. I just followed the instructions that were in the manual. It took me less than 30 minutes to remove the seat from the car, replace the booster, and reinstall the seat. Not bad.

    While I was less than pleased to have the frayed belt problem in the first place, I must say that Graco’s customer service handled the problem exactly as I would have hoped. And while I don’t love the Nautilus the way I love the Marathon, it’s almost as easy to install and use. So if you’re looking for a five-point harness seat that looks like a high back booster, I continue to recommend the Nautilus as a more affordable option than the Regent (though I look forward to personally trying out the Regent at some point).

    Review: Graco Nautilus

    In case you haven’t been following my little saga, here’s a quick summary: The week before Thanksgiving, we were rear-ended – thankfully, everyone was all right, but the car was pretty badly damaged. It’s been in the shop for repairs, and in the meantime, I spent some time trying to decide what new car seats to get. I eventually settled on the Sunshine Radian65, a convertible seat that looks a lot like a booster.

    When we last left off, I had returned the Radians because they wouldn’t install correctly in our Nissan Altima, and purchased a Graco Nautilus.

    The Graco Nautilus (pictured) is billed as a three-in-one car seat. It starts off as a forward-facing 5-point harness car seat for children between 20 and 65 pounds. Then it converts to a high-back belt positioning booster for children between 30 and 100 pounds. Finally, it becomes a backless booster for children between 40 and 100 pounds.

    We’ve been using the Nautilus for over a week now and been quite satisfied with it. It was easy to install with LATCH, and I’m happy with how secure it is (no comparison with the Radian). There are little compartments in the armrests that can hold toys, and there’s also a cup holder, which all make the chair seem like it’s for an older child – so our 3.5-year-old loves it, of course. The buckles and belts are typical Graco, so they’re not as easy or comfortable to use as a Britax, but they are perfectly acceptable.

    I was a little concerned about the recessed red handles on the bottom of the headrest (you can see one in the picture) – it seemed like they could cause injury in the event of an accident. But they really are recessed, and Marc convinced me that the seat wouldn’t be sold this way if they posed any kind of danger.

    We’ve decided that we’re keeping the Nautilus for sure. I am still thinking of buying a Britax Regent for when we get the other car back, but we’ll probably just get another Nautilus. Then again, I’ve changed my mind so many times in the last few weeks that who knows what we’ll finally end up with?

    Read an update to this post (1/30/09).

    Image credit: Amazon.com,where you can get the Nautilus for $134.96 with free shipping.

    Review: EliteCarSeats.com gets a thumbs down

    See the end of this review for an update.

    I really wanted to like EliteCarSeats.com. In fact, I expected to. Their prices were good, the web site was easy to navigate, they responded to the email I sent to their on-staff certified technicians about the Sunshine Radian, Sally from the company has commented here on my posts about the Radian, and they offer $1 Return Shipping Insurance. I was so sure that I would like them that I was even looking forward to signing up as an affiliate once everything was settled with our new car seats. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

    At first, everything seemed to be going fine. I bought two Sunshine Radian65s from them a couple of weeks ago, and I happily paid the extra dollar for Return Shipping Insurance. I have no complaints about that transaction – at least, not yet. Hopefully, my refund will processed without a problem next week. (I’ll update this post at that time.)

    But everything went downhill with my second transaction. Because I had to send the Radians back, I ordered two Britax Regents – again from EliteCarSeats.com, and again with $1 Return Shipping Insurance. I ordered on Sunday, and on Tuesday, I received a call saying they’d canceled my order because the color I selected was out of stock and for whatever reason, the computer didn’t reflect that. Okay, these things happen. But when I asked if they’d upgrade my order to expedited shipping if I placed another order for a different color, my request was refused.

    That means I won’t be doing business with EliteCarSeats.com anymore, and I can’t recommend them to you. It’s terrible customer service to make a mistake and not offer anything to the customer to make up for it. And even if I’d been inclined to brush off the error, I can’t wait an extra three days for the new seats, which is why I asked for the upgraded shipping. The EliteCarSeats web site says free shipping to where I live takes four to five days, which would have the Regents arriving early next week. The car is supposed to be fixed by then (fingers crossed), so I can’t wait that long. (And I’m not paying for shipping – since it’s calculated by weight, any savings from ordering online would be negated by the shipping costs.)

    So all of this also means that I’m very grateful to Camille, Quirky Mama, and easytocheck, who left comments praising the Graco Nautilus. We bought one at Target last night and will try installing it later today. I’ll let you know how that goes!

    By the way, if you’re wondering why I didn’t just pick up a Regent at Target, they only sell it online. And Babies R Us and Toys R Us are considerably further away than Target, especially in rush hour traffic. If the Nautilus doesn’t work out for some reason, I will probably throw in the towel and pick up two Marathons.

    Update: I got my refund for the Radians without a problem. There’s also an explanation from EliteCarSeats.com in the comments that expedited shipping simply would have cost them too much. I’m sure that’s true, but they’ve still lost my business forever since I no longer trust their their web site or customer service not to leave me hanging and costing me more money.

    In the situation above, I could have ordered Regents from Amazon and paid the same price that I paid EliteCarSeats.com. Because of the time constraints, by the time EliteCarSeats.com canceled my order, I could no long buy the car seats online. Buying Regents at the store would have cost an extra $50 apiece. Because I had to buy the Nautilus at Target, I ended up paying an extra $40 apiece. Fortunately, our car insurance covered the cost of the new car seats because the replacement was necessary due to an accident, but that hopefully won’t be the case the next time we have to buy new car seats. And I won’t give EliteCarSeats.com the chance to put me in a bad spot again.

    More Quick Product Reviews

    My first post on quick product reviews was well-received, so here are a few more reviews. I’ve included items that were new to me, but not necessarily new on the market. I acquired these items through The Drugstore Game and free sample sites.

    1. Bounty Basic paper towels – These are bigger and stronger than CVS brand towels, but not nearly as strong or thick as regular Bounty, which is our usual paper towel. I’ll buy these again at a good price, but not as my first choice.
    2. Electrasol Powerball Tabs – I got these when they were a moneymaker at Rite Aid, but didn’t like them because sometimes they didn’t dissolve completely. This may be because I use the “short wash” cycle on my dishwasher, and/or because my dishwasher is quite old. I will probably still buy them if they are free, but they’re not my first choice (which remains Cascade gel).
    3. Electrasol Gelpacks – These were also a moneymaker at Rite Aid, and I got them because I didn’t like the tabs. I again found that sometimes there was a residue left in the dishwasher, which could be due to the reasons already mentioned. There was less residue if I filled the rinse cup with vinegar (which is a fabulous frugal alternative to commercial rinsing agents). Again, I’d buy these if they were free, but not as my first choice
    4. Kotex Ultra Thin Pads – The last time I used Kotex before I tried it recently was 20 years ago. I remembered them as unwieldy thick pads, and completely inferior to Always. But a free sample from Wal-Mart showed me that Kotex had caught up with the times, and that I was wasting money by being brand loyal to Always. I’ve since bought quite a few Kotex pads, since there are often good coupons and sales.
    5. Walgreens brand pads – These seem to work as well as name brand pads.
    6. CVS brand pads – Ditto. I’m definitely not brand loyal to any feminine pad anymore.
    7. Scott Extra Soft toilet paper – A month of two ago, Wal-Mart offered a full size roll of this toilet paper as a free sample. And it turned out to be a perfectly acceptable toilet paper, if you’re okay with public restroom quality toilet paper at home. But since our preferred brand is Charmin Ultra, this Scott TP is just too thin for us and we won’t be buying it unless it’s totally free.
    8. Cottonelle toilet paper – Although we don’t like Cottonelle as much as Charmin, it’s an acceptable substitute at the right price. And the CVS deal a couple of weeks ago was definitely the right price – we actually have more Cottonelle than Charmin in our stockpile now.

    Review: SusieCakes

    I love cake, and for the longest time, I thought I liked cupcakes. And I was in luck, because cupcakes became extremely popular. Every bakery carried them.

    But I was always disappointed. No cupcake ever achieved the moistness of a cake, and I decided that I didn’t like cupcakes after all. For a while, I found a bakery that sold their delicious cakes by the slice. Unfortunately, that bakery went out of business. Ever since then, I’ve had trouble satisfying my occasional cake craving.

    I’d bake myself a cake, but I don’t really have time for that at the moment. And now, I don’t have to.

    A couple of weeks ago, my friend Kimberly kindly presented me with an unbirthday present: a quartet of delicious cupcakes from a local bakery called SusieCakes. SusieCakes really hit the spot. Marc and I agreed that it’s the most cake-like cupcake we’ve ever had.

    Obviously, I can’t have a SusieCakes cupcake every day, much as I wish I could. But I’m definitely asking for one for special occasions, like my birthday. And since the holidays are coming up, maybe I’ll ask for one for Christmas. And Hanukkah. And New Year’s. (I can have a gift to celebrate New Year’s. Right?)

    Image credit: SusieCakes.