This post is sponsored by Serve from American Express. Sign up for Serve and receive $10 credit towards your first use. Comment below by December 31 within the next 7 days for your chance to win an extra $100 credit to your account!
Once a month during the school year, I go out to dinner with the other women in my carpool. I look forward to it -- and not only because it's one of the few opportunities I have to socialize with people who are not my family (not that I don't love my family! But you know what I mean).
Our kids are so independent now, this is really the only time I get to see these women (which is so different from the days when we hung around the kitchen during arranged playdates).
There was a little bit of an urgency to Tuesday night's dinner: We weren't able to make one happen in November, and with the holidays approaching quickly, we needed to DO IT NOW.
"For some reason, I'm having trouble getting into the mood," my friend Amy said on the drive over. She fired up her holiday music playlist. Annie Lennox's dulcet voice on Winter Wonderland should have done the trick -- but it wasn't working.
The rest of us nodded in agreement. We all have reasons this year to be in December denial (for me, it's the renovation project that forced us to dismantle our entertainment system... it ain't Christmas for me until I've watched my DVD of Love, Actually two or three times).
We got a lot merrier as the evening progressed, and I credit the cocktails. We always go to the same restaurant: PF Chang's at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, because two of the women are vegetarian and they have wonderful veggie options there -- but you can still get cocktails. And let's face it: when moms get together, they're either drinking coffee or cocktails (depending on the time of day) -- which is why so many mom blogs use those drinks as themes.
I ordered a Coconut Lemon Sour, which sounds like a rum-based chi-chi type drink, but it's not: it's made with coconut vodka, coconut water and lemon juice -- which makes it refreshing and not overwhelmingly sweet. And since I wasn't driving, I had two of them.
I can't remember what the other women drank; all I know is that we had a great time talking about our kids, their school, our husbands -- and the fashion hits and misses of the people passing by the restaurant on their way to either the Magic Johnson gym or the ArcLight theatre.
(The center's office building houses some entertainment companies and the retail spaces include other restaurants, a discount shoe store, and a Burke Williams spa - so it attracts a really wide cross-section of Valleyites; making it a prime spot for people watching.)
But the real fun began at the end of the meal, when it was time to divvy up the check. Our dinner this month was sponsored by Serve, the new digital payments platform from American Express. It's a prepaid, rechargeable debit card with an accompanying smartphone app that makes it easy to send and receive payments (and split a restaurant bill, without having to do a lot of math or worry about counting cash).
We had all signed up for Serve and downloaded the app prior to our meal (which means we were each rewarded with a bonus $10 American Express is giving to everyone who sets up a Serve account before January 5, 2012 - plus, you can earn $5 for every person you refer -- up to $50).
The first thing we did was play with the send and receiving function - which was as easy as pushing a button on the smartphone app. Your available balance is easy to see in the upper left-hand corner... and if there's somewhat less in there than you remembered (an occupational hazard if you're using the card to pay for boozy dinners), the transaction function will quickly remind you about that happy hour you spent last week after the PTA meeting and show you any transactions that may still be pending (i.e., a silent auction bid that hasn't yet been accepted).
But Serve's killer app may be the Split the Bill function, where you input the total cost of the check, the number of people at the table and the percentage of tip you want to leave. Serve not only computes each person's share, but automatically sends them a request for it... and settles up quickly and easily. And it's comforting to know that by doing it through Serve, it's safe and secure.
There is also a Pizza Party function that operates on the same principle as Split the Bill -- only it figures out each person's share of one or more pizzas. I personally think that function is redundant, but I don't think I've ever tried to split the cost of pizza, so what do I know?
I noticed on the Serve website that there are a number of customizable widgets you can use for selling items online, crowd-funding and charitable fundraising. Those are functions I may explore further in the New Year.
You can also set up sub-accounts for your kids, which may be a good way to pay allowances. I may try that out, too.
All in all, I think Serve is a nice addition to my portfolio of personal finance tools (and we all know how much I need those!)
I can't wait for next month's dinner with the girls.
Remember to sign up for Serve and receive $10 credit towards your first use. Comment below by December 31 within the next 7 days for your chance to win an extra $100 credit to your account! Official sweepstakes rules and regulations may be found by clicking here. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.