Online picks & pans

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Recently some pals and I were discussing some of the fine print that we failed to read on several of our favorite sites.  We also talked about websites that we like.  I decided that this topic would be interesting to write about in this week's column.  So, read on to see some of my top online picks for shopping, organizing, banking and more.  I also include sites I like, but with a few warnings about what can happen if you don't read the fine print.  It pays to know before you go online which questions to ask. 

A Note About Facebook
I joined Facebook for six months to try it out for myself and to understand what my kids were so interested in.  Being able to locate long lost friends and stay connected to far away family with one quick click was pretty awesome.  On the downside, I found it to be incredibly time-consuming.  I quickly became addicted as each time I received an email notification of a post, I was immediately drawn to the Facebook world with visits that got longer each time because it was so fun to read everyone's daily news. 

So, I do think that Facebook is 90 percent terrific, but a word of caution.  I decided to close my account simply because it was getting too big for me to keep up with.  So I deactivated my membership.  A few months later when I needed to revisit Facebook for a quick minute to get a friend's email address, I was back in a flash by simply logging in with my old password.  That was fine, but I was a bit disturbed to see that my photos popped right back up!  I thought I deleted those pictures from my old Facebook page.  I didn't like that I had asked Facebook to delete my photos, but that they were actually still stored somewhere in the site.

If you truly want to close your account, start by going to the Facebook help page and then click the delete account option.  Once you click on this link and confirm that you want to delete your Facebook account, you have to wait 14 days.  Do not log into Facebook during those 14 days, or your account will be reset.  So, if you think that you will join again the near future, then you deactivate, but if you want out for good, then you need to go through the help page and select the delete option. 

Online Banking Bill Pay
After numerous bank tellers urged me to sign up for bill pay, I finally gave it a try.  Basically, you log in all of your bills on your bank's bill pay system.  Then at each billing cycle, you can manually click each one to pay online or you can set it up to be paid automatically on a date that you select.  I went with the manual option because I like to see which bills I'm paying when I pay them.  This service is terrific, especially when traveling because you can log on anywhere without your checkbook and get your bills paid on time. 

However, you need to know that even though the money came right out of your checking account doesn't necessarily mean that the bill was paid that day.  In fact, I received a late payment call nearly a week after I paid one company online.  I didn't understand how they had not been paid yet since the money came out of my account almost instantly.  My bank told me that even though the money was quickly deducted from my account, the bill wasn't paid instantly because that particular business isn't signed up with my bank's bill pay system.  So the bank actually turns around and sends a check to that company in the mail.  I couldn't believe it!  In fact, the payment may have arrived sooner, and on time, if I had mailed a check myself the old fashioned way.  All of my other bills were indeed paid quite quickly, but I did not know one of my monthly payments would take so much longer than the others.

So, before you assume that all of your online bills are being paid instantly, check with your bank to be sure that each company you owe bills to actually participates in your bank's program.  So, now I must remember to pay that particular bill a good seven days earlier.  It pays and saves on late fees to know the setup before you sign up.  With that said, I still love bill pay!  It now takes me half the time to pay my bills.  And it is better for the environment because I am not wasting paper writing checks and mailing out envelopes. 

Groupon.com Fine Print
I am a huge fan of the new Groupon.com site that enables users to join for free and to see daily deals that they can either purchase or pass on.  Each day members receive an email with that day's deal.  Some offers may be $40 worth of food at a trendy restaurant for only $20 or five yoga workouts for the price of one.  If  enough members purchase the offer, then the deal is on. You can also register for deals in other cities, which is great to know about if you have a future trip planned. 

But do read the fine print, which groupon is great about explaining.  For example, I recently paid only $15 for a $40 coupon to a local restaurant.  So, I spent $15 up front, but that wouldn't be my total amount spent.  When I went to redeem the coupon, I was told that tax and gratuity were not included.  So, the bill came and it was $43, but my amount due was only $3 for the tax.  Then I needed to pay the tip, which was $8 because you should tip 20% of the total amount due, not 20% of what I paid for the coupon.  So, after adding the initial $15 purchase plus the $3 in tax and the $8 tip, I spent a total of $26.  Had I not had the groupon coupon, then I would have actually spent $40 plus an $8 tip, which totals $48.  And $26 instead of $48 is close to a 50% savings.  Great deal, but remember to read and understand the fine print, so you don't end up confused when it comes time to redeem your voucher.  I highly recommend this super savings site.  Remember it by thinking that coupon rhymes with groupon and join groupon.com for cool savings around the nation!

Fabulous Photo Books: kodakgallery.com & shutterfly.com
If you are like me, you have a ton of pictures on your hard drive just begging for a home in a photo album.  An easy way to turn your shots into a stunning photo book, is to join one of the online photo sites.  I recommend Kodakgallery.com and Shutterfly.com.  Shutterfly.com takes your pictures and once organized into an album by you, creates a photo book with one click of the mouse. 

Kodakgallery.com also offers photo gifts and photo books.  One thing I like about Kodak is that as you load photos, each picture appears as soon as you hit select, so you can see if that is truly the picture you want.  Some other sites load by label, so you can't see the actual picture until the process of loading is complete.  Seeing the photo at a glance as you load results in not having to make changes later, so the process is a bit quicker. 

Kodak sells photo books in several different sizes and you choose the layout, colors and then enter your captions.  This is the first summer that I came home and instantly made our family a photo book of the vacation that we just took.  It feels great to organize and store my many photo files into a permanent place for our priceless memories that we can share and store.  Plus, if your computer crashes, your photos are safe at Kodak's site.  Membership is free and photo book prices range in price from $9.99 for a 5 x 7 paperback photo book to $69.99 to a 12 x 14 personalized book.  I found the 5 x 7 book to be incredibly nice.  Watch the segment to see mine! 

A Helping Hand Site: foodtidings.com
Another cool site that helps folks lend a helping hand in an organized manner to their friends and family in need is called foodtidings.com.  This site organizes a meal schedule and believe me, when I had new babies or was going through a loss, a home-cooked meal was absolutely the best gift that I could have received.  I also enjoy making a friend with a new baby a homemade pot pie, so when I heard about foodtidings.com through my church, I signed right up.  Membership is free.  With this website, you can setup, organize or simply view a food schedule and add your name and meal to the list of folks who have offered to cook up a thoughtful dish for folks going through a transitional time.  This site is such a good idea and works well for the giver and for the receiver.

A Beautiful Beauty Site: vitaljuicedaily.com
In the area of beauty, vitaljuicedaily.com is my favorite site.  At no cost, simply sign up with this site to receive free, daily emails with the latest buzz in beauty, health, fitness and nutrition.  Or you can go directly to the site to read articles about the latest fitness move or print out a low calorie cocktail recipe.  This month's snack of the month is the After Eco Dark Chocolate Quinoa Midnight Crunch Bar.  Quinoa in a candy bar?  Not only is it satisfying, but it is also organic and fair trade.   All kinds of areas of covered with the latest in bosom-boosting bras, trendy exercise classes and links to all kinds of websites.  Vitaljuicedaily.com is one site that keeps me connected to the latest beauty buzz.

Site I Don't Like to Like:  in20years.com
One interesting site that I heard about through vitaljuicedaily.com is called in20years.com and it gives you a free preview of how you might age in 20 years.  My curiosity got the best of me and I had to check it out.  I uploaded my picture and it certainly motivated me to take the best care of myself possible!  If you want to try it, simply upload a current picture.  The site then enhances the shot to age your mug by 20 years.  Of course, I uploaded what I consider to be one of my best photos and the enhanced photo definitely took me by surprise.  However, keep in mind, it is an entertaining website and chances are that one mouse click may not accurately predict how you will exactly look in the future!  It may however, encourage you to eat right, exercise, watch your stress and take good care.  I think I would rather age gracefully, so seeing myself fast forward 20 years certainly shocked me a bit!  And that is why this is a site that I don't like to like!

Perfect Parent Site: kids-in-mind.com
With an 8-year-old girl and an almost teen boy, my kids like to go to the movies and are especially intrigued by a PG-13 rating.  So, I was thrilled to learn about a site from another Mom called kids-in-mind.com. Not only does this site give you the storyline from a parent's perspective, but the plot and almost every scene is broken down into categories that include sex & nudity, violence & gore and profanity. 

As an example, my daughter wants to see the newly released film, Ramona and Beezus, which looks pretty innocent, but is rated PG.  So, I would like to know exactly why parental guidance is suggested.  In the site's film description of Ramona and Beezus, a scene is described showing a teenage boy and girl kissing and dancing.  Under the profanity section, kids-in-mind.com says that the word "booty" is used.  Not too bad, I decide.  Each movie description also ends with the film's message.  For Ramona, the site says that the message that kids may get from the film is that families must band together to get through tough times.  So, thanks to this site, I can tell my daughter that we can go see this movie together.  My kids have even figured this out and now ask me to check the parent website when they want to see a movie!

So happy surfing, but remember to stop and read the fine print before you visit and interact with the many different sites.  You will have a much smoother ride through cyberspace if you do!