Do middle class folks really need ostentatious displays of wealth?
Sam's Club thinks I deserve luxury. Specifically, the retailer thinks I deserve a pair of Granny Smith apples dipped in caramel, rolled in pecan pieces and drizzled with three kinds of chocolate. This particular luxury would cost me $18.22 -- plus shipping, since it’s available only online.
The two-piece treat was one of several items highlighted in an e-mail whose subject line read, "Luxury You Deserve At Sam’s Club." That got my attention because I’d just read a review of a new book called "Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster."
Back in the 19th century, the "luxury" trade was small and aimed squarely at European aristocrats. Now it's big, big business and marketed to the middle class. For example, the author mentions a secretary who’s saving to buy her second Prada bag.
You might be able to score a deal.
Recently I called a regional pharmacy to take advantage of its generic prescription program. Thyroid medication costs me $10 a month at my current pharmacy, but at the other store that same $10 would buy three months' worth of pills.
The phone rang a few minutes later. It was my current pharmacist, asking for another chance.
He'd just heard from Fred Meyer about my plans to switch, and he offered to match the $10-for-three-months price. It would never have occurred to me to ask.
The fact that he did offer made me want to suggest this tactic to readers: If you're thinking about switching to a generic prescription program, don't do so without asking your current pharmacy to match the price.
Crock-pot meals fed my family when money was tight.
I remember when slow cookers first hit the market, back in 1970. To my cash-strapped family such things were luxuries, culinary toys for the rich. We felt the same way about popcorn poppers and the Fry Daddy.
But I don't know how I would have made it as a struggling single mother eight years later without the slow cooker. It made most of the meals on which the baby and I subsisted: primarily bean soup, with occasional forays into minestrone and spaghetti.
Americans won't give up their spendthrift ways forever.
Gas is expensive and food is going higher and higher. I'm not talking about today -- I'm flashing back to my teenage years. Times were tight between 1974 and 1976, when I ran the household for my father and younger brother. I remember how quickly the grocery money evaporated even though I made all our meals, desserts and snacks from scratch. Gasoline was not only costly but rationed during what was widely referred to as the "energy crisis."
People combined errands and stayed home a lot more. They cut back on nonessential foodstuffs, did without entertainment and new clothes, and generally tried to make their dollars go further. But this austerity didn't last. The age of conspicuous consumption cranked up in the 1980s, and cars seemed to get bigger each year. More than a few times I've said to myself, or to others, "Have we learned nothing from the '70s?"
Nope, we hadn't. The crisis was over. We had plenty of gas once more.
Once again, vinegar comes to the rescue.
I'd heard from various sources that a mix of vinegar and water makes a great window cleaner, and that you can use a sheet of newspaper instead of a paper towel to wipe the glass.
Recently my bathroom mirror was looking pretty dismal. Surely vinegar and water would work on mirrors, too, I thought.
I'm happy to report that a 50-50 vinegar/water solution and a single page of the Seattle Times left the mirror looking great. I'll never buy commercial window cleaner again -- and using newspaper will help me stretch a roll of paper towels even further.
Financial fire sales are becoming more common online.
I recently wrote an essay about why getting rid of some of the clutter in your life could help you save money. Then I read an Associated Press article about people who are emptying closets and attics just to keep the wolf from the door.
Online auctions are bristling with family heirlooms, home electronics and designer duds. Craigslist ads are getting increasingly frantic, like the one in which a teen begged on behalf of her unemployed mom for people to "please buy anything you can to help out." One cash-strapped Wisconsin woman put her diamond engagement ring up for grabs.
Craigslist has noted a 70% increase in for-sale listings since July 2007. Well, of course it has: There's no charge to sell an item on Craigslist.
You don't need your own garden in order to get fresh food.
Seattle is loaded with blackberry vines. The sight of all that free fruit makes me want to forage each summer. My arms get so thorn-raked it looks like I’ve tried to exorcise a cat, but I fill the freezer, make jam, and eat blackberries almost every day for weeks.
On my way to pick berries one end-of-summer day, I saw a dark-purple blob in the dust. A plum had fallen from a tree in a nearby yard. I broke open the windfall and took a tentative nibble from its golden interior. Sweet as the memory of first love.
Peeking through the fence, I could see the tree was loaded. I asked the homeowners if I could trade them a jar of jam for the fruit I’d need to make some. They told me to help myself: "We’re glad someone wants it."
You might be surprised where you can find bargain goods.
Want to get a roll of paper towels for 39 cents? Hit the auto supply store. Shocked at how expensive canned fruit has gotten? The drugstore might have an alternative. In the market for deeply discounted coffee, trash bags or toilet paper? Visit an office supply place.
These are some examples of the deals you can get if you stop thinking that foodstuffs and sundries can be purchased only in supermarkets. With the costs of basic foods continuing to rise, it really can pay to break out of the grocery gulag.
Yesterday I noticed long-grain rice on sale for $1.13 a pound at a local supermarket; the dollar store across the street sells 2 pounds for $1. Condensed soup is 99 cents and up at the grocery store, but I've gotten three cans for a buck on sale at Rite Aid. Five pounds of sugar costs $3.49 at Safeway but was $1.99 this week at Walgreens.
Copyright © 2013 Microsoft. All rights reserved.
Quotes are real-time for NASDAQ, NYSE and AMEX. See delay times for other exchanges.
Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Thomson Reuters (click for restrictions). Real-time quotes provided by BATS Exchange. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Interactive Data Real-Time Services. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by SIX Financial Information.
ABOUT SMART SPENDING
Editor Bev O'Shea lives and works in the foothills of the Appalachians. A former copy editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orlando Sentinel, she joined MSN Money in 2007. She's a fan of sunsets, college football and free shipping, among other things.
Having worked as a writer, reporter and editor for more than 25 years, Editor Julie Tilsner is the sort of person who can't help but correct grammar in Facebook postings and on billboards. She's written for BusinessWeek, the Los Angeles Times, Parenting, Redbook, AOL and others. She lives in Los Angeles County with her family and loves to drink wine and practice yoga, although not generally at the same time.
A writer for MSN Money since January 2007, Donna Freedman won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. She also writes about smart money tactics for magazines and on her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Mitch Lipka has been warning people about scams and shining light on questionable business practices for more than 20 years. Mitch, the consumer columnist for The Boston Globe, has also been a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and AOL. He won the 2010 New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online and was honored in 2011 for his reporting on child product safety.
Marilyn Lewis is an award-winning writer with a passion for getting readers clear, straight information that helps them stay out of financial trouble. A former reporter for The San Jose Mercury News, she works from her home in Port Townsend, Wash. Contact her at MarilynLewis@Outlook.com.
LATEST BLOG POSTS
Children from lower income families are at greater risk of suffering accidental injuries and being sickened by food, according to a Consumer Federation of America study.