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  • 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.

    Review: Take Time for Your Life by Cheryl Richardson

    About ten years ago, I saw a woman on The Oprah Winfrey Show named Cheryl Richardson. I’d never heard of a “life coach” before, but that’s what Richardson’s title was. And she was promoting her new book called Take Time for Your Life.

    Intrigued, I bought the book and have loved it ever since. I hadn’t touched it in several years, but took it down from my bookcase a couple of months ago, thinking that I might sell it on Amazon. Instead, I found myself rereading it – and remembering why it is such a great book.

    The overarching theme of Take Time for Your Life is “extreme self-care.” Richardson emphasizes that in order to be happy, and to be able to give of ourselves to others, we must take care of ourselves and meet our own needs. And “needs” refers not just to basic needs like sleep and food, but to nourishment of the soul. She encourages readers to figure out what nourishes their spirit, and offers tools to help fit that nourishment into their daily lives.

    She also suggests practical and detailed ways to figure out your priorities, manage time, get control of your finances, and make your dreams come true. Of course, it’s not as simple as that, but I do believe the book can help you get there.

    I like the many anecdotes in the book about clients she’s worked with. They help to illustrate her points with specific examples of how her recommendations work. One of my favorite examples is of the woman who couldn’t bring herself to sort through the endless stacks of papers she’d accumulated. Richardson told the woman to sit on the floor with the papers, light a candle, and ask why she had a mental block against dealing with them. That was how the woman realized that her notes for a novel she’d always wanted to write were buried in the papers and that tossing the papers would mean tossing out her dream of writing that book.

    I admit that it’s kooky, but it also resonates with me. I don’t know that I would go so far as to conduct a seance with a bunch of papers, but the story is a good reminder to look beyond the surface and ask myself what’s really going on.

    That’s actually a big part of why I like this book: the solutions presented aren’t ones that I would ordinarily think of on my own. I might not actually want to pursue any of them – such as hiring someone to do my housework – but I appreciate having a new perspective from which to view my problems and solutions.

    Since the book has been around for a while, it should be easy to borrow from your local library. Alternatively, you might just want to poke around Richardson’s web site and maybe sign up for her weekly newsletter, or buy the book used from Amazon for $4.00 including shipping.

    As for my copy of Take Time for Your Life? It’s back on my bookshelf.

    Review: SwagBucks

    Search & Win

    Update 7/21/08: I didn’t realize it when I originally drafted this review, but you can win $3 awards – I just got one. I also wanted to add that SwagBucks’ search function uses Google and Ask.com, so the results are usually what you’re looking for. If you signed up using my referral link, thank you and have fun!

    One of my daily reads is My Good Cents, which includes a weekly update on “extra” money. I saw repeated references to a $5 Amazon.com gift certificate from a site called SwagBucks, so when the author posted this review, I was intrigued and finally signed up last month.

    Swagbucks is super easy to use. All you have to do is register, sign in, and use their search function. (I’ve bookmarked the search page, but they also have a downloadable toolbar. I’ve already got more than enough toolbars, so I’m sticking with the bookmark.)

    Each search is an opportunity to win random “Swag Bucks” in the amount of $1, $2 or $5. Swag Bucks can be redeemed for various prizes. Obviously, I was interested in the Amazon gift certificates, which are 45 Swag Bucks, but there are quite a few other prizes as well.

    I hit that threshold last week, almost exactly one month after I registered. I immediately redeemed my 45 Swag Bucks for an Amazon certificate, which appeared by email within a couple of hours.

    It’s pretty effortless for something I will most definitely use. (And I would have spent that money at Amazon anyway.) I’ve found that on most days, I can earn a SwagBuck in the morning and another one at night. I get at least one Swag Buck each day, and average about five searches per award. It’s worth noting that only your first 20 searches each day qualify for the random awards.

    When you sign up, you’ll get 5 Swag Bucks to get you started. And if you’d kindly use my referral link, I’ll earn a Swag Buck every time you do. Thank you!

    One last thing to keep in mind: SwagBucks is part of a larger search and win network, but the bucks don’t seem to be transferrable. Prizes at SwagBucks’ other sites cost more, so My Good Cents recommends that you stick with the main site.

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