Farewell, wobbly chairs; hello, $99 discount-store dining set.
Some people seem to think that I never buy anything new. That's not the case. A few weeks ago I bought a dining table and chairs.
Although it's like placing a "Kick Me" sign on my own back, I'm going to admit that I bought these things from Kmart.
Discount department stores have a down-at-the-heels reputation: their merchandise is low-end and their employees -- when you can find them -- are surly and unhelpful.
That wasn't my experience. When I couldn't find the advertised dining set, a manager brought one out from the stockroom. Then he loaded it into my car, chatting pleasantly.
I even found a way to make a little money.
Some of you who read "Always budget for a carousel ride" wrote to tell me to go ahead and splurge on a cheesesteak during a trip to visit family. I grew up near Philadelphia, home of that deliciously cheesy, greasy, oniony sandwich that's impossible to duplicate elsewhere.
Turns out that the one store in my hometown offers a daily special: a 9-inch cheesesteak, small bag of chips and a can of soda for $4.59.
At that price, how could I resist? And a 9-inch cheesesteak consumed at 2 p.m. eliminated the need for supper.
This wasn't my only frugal hack, though.
It's not just a way to find cheap stuff, it's also fun.
The best thrift shops are as good as garage sales, offering a variety of offbeat items at low prices. Things like "Talk to the Hand: Getting Everything You Want With Ventriloquism," a how-to manual with a set of four finger puppets. Originally it cost $9.95; I paid 50 cents yesterday at Cloud 9 Consignment & Thrift.
In all, I spent $9.97 for six items that will make good birthday or holiday gifts, two books for my church's library, and four tins that I'll fill with homemade cookies and give as Christmas presents.
But what made the trip memorable was discovering that Cloud 9, like some yard sales, has a free box. In it I found an olive green sweater that's from Bill Blass, if labels mean anything to you. I was more interested by its excellent condition and the fact that it is machine washable. And free.
Don't let the stuff you own end up owning you.
You never know how much stuff you have until you need to move it 1,500 miles. Just ask my daughter and son-in-law, who are heading to Phoenix, Arizona. Although they sold some items online, staged a yard sale, donated many other belongings to charity thrift shops and gave lots of things to friends, they still couldn't fit everything into a 6x7x8-foot moving cube.
I don't suppose anyone out there could use seven dozen plastic hangers and some ice cube trays?
Or a bentwood rocker? A medium-sized pet kennel? Or how about a Brita pitcher, stone sundial, curtain rod, vegetable steamer, small gargoyle, chips-and-salsa tray, flashlight or cookie press? Any takers for the fabric-lined storage basket, bags of canned food, picture frames, coffee mugs, half a dozen saucers, two bowls, or a bunch of food storage containers?
My living room looks like a yard sale. Thank goodness for Freecycle.
I hate to admit it, but I bought dollar-store underwear.
It was name-brand, though "slightly irregular" merchandise, a three-pack of Hanes Her Way briefs. Three-for-a-buck drawers are a good reason to love the dollar store.
These emporia have had some negative press lately, notably the tainted toothpaste scare. Another potential problem with dollar stores is that you might buy stuff you don't really need because, well, it's only a dollar. I’ve been miserably tempted by flavored potato chips, for example.
And of course you sometimes do get what you pay for -- but really, how much do you want to pay for a dish drainer?
Contacting companies directly can be rewarding.
Got coupons? Maybe not. Maybe your local paper includes few or no Sunday inserts. Maybe you're feeling so squeezed by the economic downturn that you can't afford new printer cartridges -- or for that matter, a Sunday paper.
Stephanie Nelson of CouponMom.com suggests a way to get free coupons. It takes very little work and is paying off for one of Nelson's co-workers.
First, write up a boilerplate note: "Your (insert product name here) is a terrific product. It (gets my whites whiter/makes my house cleaner/tastes much better) than any other products on the market. I've been using this product (for years/for decades/forever) but lately money has been tight and I have had to switch to store brands. Do you happen to have any coupons that you mail out to loyal customers?"
She instilled the value of hard work and self-reliance.
Yesterday would have been the 73rd birthday of the person who probably should be writing this column: my mother, Geneva Hanes.
She was the youngest of 10 kids born to an uneducated Tennessee couple who eventually pulled up stakes and moved north for opportunity -- that is, for the chance to work in South Jersey factories and vegetable fields.
Despite hunger, poverty and violence, my mother became the first in her family to finish high school. She owned two dresses ("one on, one off") and never had a square meal or a bath in a real tub until she married my dad right after graduation.
They had four kids in five years, which sounds impossibly grim by today's standards. But we didn't seem to notice that we were poor. Everyone we knew pinched pennies. Nobody did it like my mom, though.
Save electricity -- and money -- by air drying.
Tired of putting quarters into the dryer? Save two bits and do your bit for the environment by getting a drying rack.
According to a group called Project Laundry List, electric dryers amount for 5% to 10% of residential electricity usage in the United States. Racks are the green/frugal solution for apartment dwellers who don't have access to outdoor drying.
They're also useful to homeowners in places where housing covenants ban clotheslines. Apparently the sight of damp clothing flapping in the breeze brings down property values. A Boston Globe article quoted Frank Rathbun, a spokesman for the Community Associations Institute: "If you imagine driving into a community where the yards have clothes hanging all over the place, I think the aesthetics, the curb appeal, and probably the home values would be affected by that."
I wonder if he means all clothes, or just boxers and briefs?
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