Monday, July 10, 2006

A Starbucks Pod A Day Saves A Girl Big Bucks

After a satisfying day of running errands (in my new J. Crew flip flops of course), I stopped off at Starbucks to pick up a package of espresso pods. If you own an espresso/cappuccino machine and haven't tried espresso pods yet, you should! It's not that I don't like buying fresh coffee beans and grinding them daily, then tamping and brewing them into a nice morning latte, it's just that it gets messy and invariably leads to coffee dust everywhere, no matter how meticulously I brush them off every surface. And one has to wait for the machine to cool before cleaning renegade grounds out of every crevice so stale grounds don't make their way into the portafilter and contaminate a future latte. Anyway, as much as I enjoy the intoxicating aroma of freshly ground coffee in the morning, I'd rather just pop in a pre-measured, pre-wrapped pod into my portafilter, push a button on my Gaggia Carezza, and watch the rich crema flow into my cup. I had read about espresso pods previously but wrote them off as lazy peoples' coffee solutions, not the authentic espresso experience. Well, let me tell you, the first time I used espresso pods, I was sold. It was late at night and I was scurrying about hastily trying to buy all sorts of ingredients for a ladies brunch I was hosting the next morning, and with almost everything closed, I happened upon a package of espresso pods at my local gourmet store. I scoffed snobbily, probably a little too loudly, because a store manager came out to assist me. After assuring me that the pods were completely acceptable and did not compromise the flavor of the coffee, I agreed to test them out. They were Illy brand pods, which has a reputation for being the top-of-the-line packaged coffee (according to all the coffee forums out there). At $12 per vacuum-sealed can of 18 pods, they had better be worth the hype, I thought, as I took them home to meet my very picky and emotional Italian expresso maker.

I was delighted the next morning when my normally messy and slightly labor-intensive espresso-making ritual was turned into a short, easy, and clean experience. No one guessed that the foamy cappuccinos and flavorful lattes I served up had come out of neatly pre-packaged little pods. The best thing is there is absolutely no measuring, no tamping, and no cleanup. Once I tried pods, I never went back. However, the price of my espresso pods habit was starting to eat into my shopping budget, so I needed to find a better value to get my daily latte. I figured I'd give Starbucks a shot, as $9.90 for a 24-pack was slightly more palatable. I mean, the whole point of getting an espresso maker was to save money by making it at home (and also to impress all your friends and family with personalized espresso beverages). A budget will only stretch so far, and surely any diva worth her Dior would rather save her dollars so she could buy a new handbag every season. Think about it -- at $9.90 plus tax, each latte costs roughly 42 cents. Add in the price of milk, a large bottle of flavored syrup that should last you a few months at least, and a moderately priced espresso/cappucino maker which should last 4-5 years (I snagged my Italian one about 2 years ago with some diligent shopping around for a mere $197 when it had originally cost over $270) and you're looking at a very affordable $1 per latte, if that. This should save you $2-3 for the daily hazelnut latte or caramel macchiato. Multiply the savings by 25 beverages per month for 3 months and you can save between $150 and $225. You can either get a fun new bag each season, or, you can accumulate $600 to $900 and splurge on a totally chic designer bag at the end of the year. See how important those espresso pods are now?

So when I went on a Starbucks run today to replenish my supply, I was quite taken aback when the store I usually frequent was out of fresh boxes of pods. Now, they weren't completely out of pods, mind you -- there were plenty of regular caffienated boxes of pods -- but all the decaf boxes had slipped past their recommended freshness dates. (Before you laugh at me or write me off as anal, keep in mind that there is a time and place for decaf expresso beverages. After dinner on weeknights or when I've already had too much caffiene that day, I'd really rather curl up with a calming, decaf latte and read Lucky Magazine or shop online. And occassionally in the mornings when I've been up too late the night before and can't handle the jolt of a double-shot of espresso coursing through my veins, I'd rather just have decaf. With summer party season in full force, there have been a lot of mornings like this recently. That's why I like to keep decaf espresso pods around.) I brought this up to the Starbucks manager who was appropriately embarrased and apologetic about the matter. He promised to order a new shipment of decaf espresso pods that week. Not to be deterred, I made my way to the next closest Starbucks and was encouraged as I stepped through the entrance and saw boxes of decaf pods neatly arranged on the shelf. Alas, when I walked over and picked one up, it was the same sad story. The freshness date had expired and each box was past its prime. Once more I pointed out the lack of fresh boxes to an associate who was again embarrased and apologetic, in fact, much more so than the first. This female associate also informed me that a new shipment would be arriving that week and she would make sure that fresh decaf espresso pods were in it. I assured her that I would be back to buy a box. Then, she took matters into her own hands and went a step further. She actually ground me a whole bag of coffee from their own stock of espresso beans so I would have Starbucks coffee to savor between shipments of pods. And she gave it to me for free! Now that's outstanding customer service. Because a society girl shouldn't have to go a single day without her Starbucks latte. Kudos to the Sunday evening female associate at the Alexandria Commons Starbucks! I will of course return, as promised, mid-week to claim my box of decaf espresso pods. I hope they don't disappoint me on my next visit!


Saturday, July 08, 2006

J.Crew Flip Flops Are SO Worth the Dough!

I just got my very first ever pair of J.Crew flip flops. What fabulous comfort! Who knew what I had been missing all these years. My friend Banana has been swearing by them forever. She buys 2 pairs every summer and doesn't even look anywhere else. But $20, I gasped. It's against the principles of a budget-conscious society girl to spend more than like $10 on a pair of rubber flip flops that will probably break (they always do) or get chewed by the dog. Especially when the extra $10 could be used more effectively towards a fresh manicure. For the past 5 summers, I've been starting off each Memorial Day weekend with 2 pairs of Old Navy flip flops -- always 1 white pair and 1 black or brown pair (they came out with an elegant silver pair this year!). Anyway, I did exactly such this May but found my new white pair ruined by early June (note to self: no more gardening in white flip flops). As for the silver pair, well, accidents happen (even to graceful society swans) and so, I was left without any flips flops except an old pair of Target standbys. So, I seized the opportunity when I had to return something to J.Crew. Without even trying them on, I grabbed a brown elastic-thong set from a giant overflowing silver beach pail (J.Crew has great merchandising displays). The register salesgirl tried to con me into buying another pair to save 20%, but I nipped that conversation in the bud promptly. I mean, $20 for a pair of rubber flip flops when I was used to paying $12 or less at Old Navy? As if!

The problem with flip flops is they're either too slippery on the bottom, too annoying in the toe thong part, too low for short girls, or too bulky for a princess's delicate feet. So once you find a brand that fits everything you're looking for, you tend to stick by it loyally.

Of course, I took the first available opportunity to try out my new high class J.Crew flip flops. As soon as I put them on, my feet were elevated into flip flop heaven. I felt them out and bounced around while experiencing a cushioned pillowy sole with plenty of support. Perfect for standing for long periods of time. I will now take these babies out for the ultimate test: a day of shopping. I will let you know how they stand up to the jagged cracked brick sidewalks of our town and slick food shop floors.

Day 2:
The J.Crew flip flops passed with flying colors! A day of shopping and doing chores didn't faze the pillowy cushionedness that my feet felt. I decided to take them out for another day of errands. Not only did they provide relief during the long lines at the Hecht's registers (they were having a not-t0-miss sale on men's apparel and in a rare show of solidarity my fiance volunteered to go shopping with me), they performed beautifully while I sprinted all over town (well, at least the zip code) to find some fresh Starbuck's decaf espresso pods -- more on that later. They also pulled together a nice casual chic outfit for an impromptu brunch with the fam. Can't complain when I had to carry a bunch of heavy items in and out of the car either. The whole time my feet bounced on a soft marshmallow cloud while I ran errands, whizzed in and out of stores, and stood in lines. I give these flip flops an A!

1-Year Update:
I bought a pair of J.Crew flip flops in white about 4 weeks ago. I've been wearing them non-stop and they are still the best! I prefer the classic elastic to the newer plastic thong, but I am told both are very comfortable. I learned from a J.Crew associate that they are made from tire rubber. Interesting... All I know is, they literally save my feet after a long day and are totally hip for most of my summer outfits. Especially now that shorts are such the rage. Who knows? Maybe next year, I'll add the pink flip flops to my collection.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Hello darlings!

Welcome to The 3-Penny Princess, a guide to living the luxe life for less. We all dream of being Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, complete with a Givenchy wardrobe and a fabulous social life. If you've got aspirations of being a society princess but the modest budget of a working girl, you've come to the right place. I'll share my secrets of fine living and social happiness so you don't have to empty your little black pocketbook. We'll dish the dirt on finding to-die-for fashion on a dime, discovering the "it" bags & shoes of the season (and how not to get ripped off buying them), becoming a sought-after social butterfly, hosting swell parties, and scoring a paragraph in your society pages. So settle into that lounge chaise (or Ikea armchair), lift your Cosmo-tini, and toast to the good life -- at a better price. Cheers darling!