Depression-era lessons aren't always applicable today.
When the going gets tough, it's tempting to invoke our grandparents and their tribulations during the Great Depression. A Smart Spending message board reader posting as "jestjack" started a thread called "Where are my grandparents when I need them?"
"These were some of the most thrifty, smart, industrious, hard-working, and honorable folks," he wrote. "Boy, could we use their wit and wisdom in these troubled times."
I'm about to commit cultural heresy: Not everything our grandparents had to offer would be helpful.
How to make your produce last a little longer.
Last week I noticed that some Braeburn apples I'd bought were getting kind of tired. I sliced one up and tried to eat it but the slightly softened texture made the fruit really unappetizing. Given how high food prices are getting, the idea of throwing out fruit really annoyed me -- and I had another five apples in the bag.
A childhood riddle popped into my head: How do you divide five apples among nine people?
The answer: Make applesauce. So I did: Peeled and sliced the other apples, simmered them with a little water, pulverized them with a potato masher, and added cinnamon and a tiny amount of brown sugar. The result was delicious.
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.
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