Category Archives: deals

Shopping Haul Fail

Between the extreme heat, gallstone* troubles that landed me in the ER and our AC breaking down just as an HVAC guy was headed to our house to give us an estimate on system improvements, we had quite an exciting week. Not in a good way.

When I thought about the medical bills in addition to the $750 it will cost to fix the AC (the part won’t be in until next week), I just couldn’t find the mojo to buy anything beyond what was needed to get the Teen off to overnight camp, which I took care of at Kohls.

* Horrible pain; it was as though my gall bladder was in labor for several intense hours. There’s a good chance it will come out later this year. I know this is not uncommon for women of childbearing age- you have any insights or experience with this?

Is Angie’s List Good, Bad or Just Plain Worthless?

Angie's List has a no-bribe policyIt was pretty easy to convince us to join Angie’s List, especially once I found discount coupon for membership after a quick online search. We’ve already recouped the roughly $30 membership fee and, more importantly, found qualified service providers to tackle our many needed updates. Every person we’ve scheduled an appointment with has shown up within the designated time period, even if they were just coming to quote us, and we’re pleased with the results of the few jobs that have been completed.

In theory, Angie’s List is like a group of imaginary BFFs who want their peeps to spend their hard-earned money wisely on hard-working, honest professionals with high quality skillz. And there’s some truth to this. It’s a community; DH and I are not content to just take from it, but give back by sharing our experiences for better or worse, to share our experience with other homeowners.

But the reality is a bit messier. Knowing how much we’re relying on Angie’s List (either to check references from referrals we get from real-life friends or to find providers from scratch. Have a good lintel guy? I didn’t think so.) I can understand the value of positive reviews there. Any provider of home repair or maintenance services should want to be on the A-List, literally. But some try a little too hard to get there.

We’re talking incentives, bribes, payola. Things that mess with the integrity of Angie’s List.

It’s one thing to provide a discount to AL members, something many providers do (woot!). And it’s fine to provide great service and follow up with a mention of how much your company appreciates reports on AL. I get it. I’m happy to share, even if it does take me a few weeks to get around to it.

But it’s another thing to to reward people for sharing their thoughts. Don’t you think?

DH told me one of our providers offered a gift card if we posted a review. That didn’t feel right.

As a blogger, I know in such a circumstance I could write an honest review here, but I’d have to disclosure the material nature or that review. Something like, “I was provided with a gift card to share my opinion here.” So I’m considering doing that.

But I noticed Angie’s List popping up in my RenovatorKim* Twitter stream, so I asked.

@RenovatorKim: Is it cool for providers on the list to offer incentives for peeps like me to post reviews?

@AngiesList: Not cool! We prefer honest, unswayed feedback. Were you offered something for a review?

The thing is, the provider in question was timely, professional, provided the service when I needed it and gave me an AL discount. We were happy. I was totally gonna write his firm up in a good way.

Now what? Do I write a review with a disclaimer? Do I turn report them to the AL police to protect the integrity of the list and my imaginary BFFs?

What would you do?


*Yes, I’m using HootSuite now, which makes multiple accounts easier to manage.


Shopping Haul Weekend of June 25: Just what I needed

This week’s selection of great deals procured from Chicago-area garage sales includes a few things we could really frugal finds from garage and yard salesuse, as well as a few things that might annoy my husband should he bother reading this blog.

The haul:

Tool belt- not only practical, but sure to be featured in upcoming episodes of Reluctant Renovator: the vlog.

Unopened clothesline- good for, well, hanging clothes or even artwork. Also makes a nice “net” for the balloon volleyball court.

18 inch crowbar- would have been really handy about two weeks ago.

Scraper- to rid the house for scraping off peeling paint on the bedroom windowsill, basement floor, basement walls and anywhere else we find it.

Two cigar boxes for the no-longer hypothetical cigar box guitars I plan to make. Turns out our friend, David Sutton, has a book about cigar box guitars (CBG for those in the know) coming out in 2012.

A rotary tool, or dremel of sorts- good for woodworking projects. It’s a vintage Sears Lil’ Crafty, which once once an extension of the Craftsman line.

Three rolls of nylon tape- to help seal leaky hose where they meet the hose reel or house spigot.

Sandpaper sponges- I’m told these are very handy for sandy the windowsills, etc. after I scrape off the paint.

A small garden spade- useful for our small garden.

An unopened vintage, wood burning kit produced back before most manufacturers knew what safety standards were. I’ll just pass it off to the boys and see what happens. This might lead to an interesting design for the wooden table I plan to refinish or on the CBGs (yeah, I’m in the know).

Labyrinth game- will entertain the boys for minutes, at least.

Vintage salt and pepper set- for my mom, who collects such things.

A cake pan just like the one my mom uses for sponge cakes.

A crystal platter for serving deviled eggs. The picture I took didn’t do it justice, but it’s like new and my teen can whip up a mean batch of deviled eggs. I’ll have to have him make a batch for our post-reno open house.

Did I say post-reno?! We haven’t even signed with a contractor yet.

Don’t ask.

Total spend: just under $15

Garage sale bonus: I ran into a friend (the wife of the guy who gave me the advice on taking down the basement drywall).





Shopping Haul: Garage Sale Version

I don’t understand the popularity of shopping haul videos, but then again, I’m not much garage sale shopping haulof a shopper. I break out in hives if I’m forced to go to the mall. God forbid I head there on a weekend or holiday, I’d better have an epi-pen or who knows what would happen to me. For my kindred spirits and those who don’t spend as much time online as I do, shopping haul videos typically involve a shopper highlighting her fabulous finds and great deals from a shopping trip. Some haulers get tens of thousands of YouTube views as they show off what’s in their bag, which translates into good money from ads on those videos as well as lucrative deals with brands.

Are you interested in Reluctant Renovator shopping haul videos? If so, I’ll make you some, but know they will be more likely to feature Lowes and hardware than Loehmann’s and handbags.

As you’re pondering my question, take a look at what I picked up last week at local garage sales- something for nearly every room in the house.

Yes, that one. The house that we do not yet own.

My friend Cindy* kindly reminded me that people buy stuff for babies long before they arrive, why not buy a few things for the house?

I threw caution to the wind and went on a $32 shopping spree. Let me tell you about my haul:

  • A brand-new bread machine that makes 2 lb. loaves (on our “to buy” list)
  • Two brand-new tarps (handy for lawn work and so much more)
  • Two large plastic planters for the garden (good since we may only have a container garden this year)
  • Cigar boxes (pure awesome) + their contents (not cigars, but items the boys will use in the workshop)
  • Records including U2’s Joshua Tree and Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits Volumes 1 and 2 (wait for more news about this and hope Hubs doesn’t have these same titles tucked away in his parents’ basement)
  • Closet accessory for hanging shoes or sorting out winter gear like hats and mittens
  • Nearly two dozen old glass spice jars (great with our retro kitchen!)
  • (Then I remembered we’re gutting the kitchen….)

DH likes to remind me that low-priced crap is still crap, but I think we will get our $32worth out of this haul, especially if the boys make a cigar box guitar and I figure out how to repurpose the lovely glass jars (which might work even in the new kitchen).

What do you think? More shopping updates?

* Click the link. She is a fabulous writer.

Low Cost Rain Barrels in Chicago

Attaching a rain barrel to a downspout is a great way to keep water away from your foundation. inexpensive Rain_barrelAnd you’ll truly be #winning when you use that collected water on your lawn or garden. As a green trend, rain barrels are definitely catching on. We had one at our old house that we purchased as part of a school fundraiser. For something like $100, we had a big, green plastic barrel outside our back door. Now we can get them for about $50. Read on.

True to our style, the big green barrel spoke of screamed function over form. Nowadays, there are many more aesthetically pleasing rain barrels, but, as always, fashion comes at a price. Do I want to spend more than $200 to collect rain water? No. Do you?

Chicago area residents can get a starter barrel (two, actually) on the cheap–only $51– from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Here are the deets:

The rain barrels have a 55 gallon capacity (that’s less than $1/gallon of water held)

Diameter – Approximately 21 inches
Height – Approximately 34 inches
Colors – Blue, Black, Terra Cotta, Grey

Order your inexpensive rain barrel from MWRD here. I ordered grey, but the site notes they can be painted, so who knows how they will look in the end. The rain barrels can be picked up from a range of sites at pre-determined dates as noted on the MWRD website.

My Chicago north shore and north side peeps can pick them up at the Waste Water Treatment Plant (AKA the poopy place) at 3500 W. Howard Street (at McCormick) in Skokie

Pickup Dates/Times:

4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. June 15, 2011

9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

(all dates in 2011) June 4, July 2, August 6, September 3, October 1, October 29

Want to try your hand at making your own? The Fabulous DIY couple at Young House Love can help walk you through it, but be warned, finding a barrel can be tough.

When Angie’s List Goes Bad

We joined Angie’s List a few weeks ago and have been digging through reviews on plumbers, Stop bad reviewssewer specialists, floor guys, builders, contractors and everything in between. I love that we can get discounts just for being members, not to mention special coupons many service providers offer to folks on the List.

I like to think that this is a List with integrity, that a provider who has an A rating, has truly earned it rather than noting with a nudge and a wink that in exchange for the 15% discount, they really hope the homeowner will post a positive review. Not that this doesn’t happen. I’ve heard stories of providers who will pay for a customer to join Angie’s List, just so the customer can share their (no doubt, positive) feedback.

As long as the List member provides a detailed (and honest) narrative about the job done, I’m cool.

But yesterday while looking for a floor refinisher, I came across a review that said something like, “Acme Floors did a great job. They had to come in and fix really sloppy job done by a previous floor company that I’m not going to name because in exchange for a discount, I agreed not to post about them here.”

Way to be a d-bag, dude.

As Mike Brady warned, Caveat Emptor. Even on Angie’s List.