Friday, May 29, 2009

When a bargain is not a bargain

I promised to post a bargain-hunting-theory post and so here it is.

I think it's in our nature to love a bargain. We feel like we're getting a deal! The problem is, changing attitudes about saving, debt, spending, ownership, etc. have turned bargains into something of a burden.

Back in the "good old days" when you needed a new dress (meaning the old one wore out, not just that you felt like a new one) you went to the store to look for one. You were limited to the stores in your immediate area, because there was no good old internet so you could instantly price-compare across the globe. If a dress you liked happened to be on sale, so much the better. That was a bargain. Unless they were REALLY on sale, you couldn't afford to buy two, just because they were cheaper. You still bought one, but you just spent a little less. Or maybe you spent a little more and got a nicer dress. At any rate, you paid for your dress with money you already had and left with one new dress.

Now a million factors make this nice, sane scenario really uncommon, almost humorous.

No matter what point I'm at, if I have a bunch of money in my account or I'm scraping change off the floor of the car, I can almost always afford a new dress at, say, Target. Probably the most expensive dress I've seen there was $50. And there are plenty for $25 & under. Although there are certainly people who cannot afford that, the percentage of those who can is much much higher. And so the price of a dress is not prohibitive. It's not a deterrent. It doesn't give you much incentive to wear one dress over and over when you could buy a new one for each event.

Another factor is that stores turn over their merchandise so quickly that you really have to buy things right away if you want them. This creates a sense of urgency: "I like this dress, I don't get paid until next week but it might be gone by then." It makes it more likely that you'll find some way to acquire the dress, regardless of whether or not you really and truly need it.

And now you don't even need the actual money in hand, of course. Most people, regardless of income status, have a credit card or two. And while being "in debt" used to be a cause for shame and anxiety, now it's just business as usual. People brag and joke about their credit card balances. They rail against the card companies for "ripping them off" and raising interest rates, etc. The fact that people made all those purchases themselves gets lost in the shuffle, because carrying around debt is considered normal; something everyone does, so the credit card companies should make it easier on everyone, right?

Of course there's an attitude shift that has changed our view of clothes. Clothes used to be something you wore, to keep you from running around naked. You wanted to look nice, of course, but clothes were not surrounded by the aura of entitlement, personal worth, and your projected image. Now that clothes ARE symbolic of that, that having a stuffed closet means you are doing all right, having the best brands means you are really cool, and darn it you DESERVE to feel good nobody thinks twice about buying lots of clothes.

So, easy availability, easy money, and a sense of entitlement. Suddenly the closet is full and the credit card is burning.

But I haven't even gotten to the internet! The internet is full of ways to make us spend without thinking. First off, it's easy. I'm bored at work and can hop on the net and look for some stuff, without ever hopping in my car and actually physically driving to the store. Second, the buying is easy. You can't really use cash, so you can just type in a few numbers and the stuff arrives in the mail. Even easier is that you can save a credit card to a site so all you need to do is click a button, not even type in the number! And all these sites like Overstock and Zappos and Ebay are full of "deals". Who hasn't seen an expensive handbag originally $269 with the price crossed out and a big red price next to it *now only $29.99!!!* Who can resist? Kate Spade for the price of Jaclyn Smith!!

And so then we lose sight of whether we actually WANTED the bag in the first place, but it's cheap, and we might not find a good deal like that again, so really we SHOULD buy it just in case we want it someday! I almost did this myself last night, holding a $6 Kate Spade handbag in the thrift shop. Did I need it? No. Fortunately sanity prevailed and I put it back down, but, dear readers, I was very close.

Sometimes our bargains become something to brag about in and of themselves. You like this tablecloth? I got it for only $10 at a clearance sale. Check out this chair. It was FREE. I garbage picked this, my friend sold me this, got this at a garage sale for only 75 cents!

The unfortunate part about all this is we feel like we're saving money. Most of us are trying to save, after all, in this economy. And so finding a dress for CHEAP makes us feel like we are "saving" the $30 markdown, rather than "spending" the $20 price tag. If we didn't buy the dress at all, we would actually "save" $20. But no store wants us to believe this!

An interesting comparison. I used to shop at a regular grocery store full of "DEALS" and "BUY ONE GET ONE FREE!!!!" and "WEEKLY SPECIAL!". I always, always walked out with more stuff than I needed. All those red signs! They caught my eye! They made me feel like I should buy another one because next week they won't be on sale! I usually spent over $100 in a trip. When I started shopping at Whole Foods, it was a different ball game. The stuff is a little more expensive, and very few items, if any, are ever on sale. So if lemons aren't on my list, they never even enter my radar, because there isn't a huge sign proclaiming "TEN FOR ONE DOLLAR!" over the display, coercing me to buy pounds and pounds of lemons I don't need. I typically spent LESS at the Whole Foods, because I was only buying what I needed. I could make the decision to buy lemons or not, free of the siren song of the sale.

And so this has made me more likely to actually save more money by NOT buying things on sale. After all, if you wouldn't buy it for full price, you shouldn't buy it at all. I tend to patronize stores that don't have bouncy happy cheapy SALES everywhere because I fall victim to those signs every time. If something I want IS on sale, so much the better, but I have to want that item at full price first. And frequently I've turned to using something I have, borrowing from someone else, or some other method of actually saving, which means less stuff in my house, more money in my wallet, and more sanity in my head!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The amazing budget redecorate project

When I first bought this house, I wanted it to be....like the 50's housewife guides said homes should be. I paid an ungodly amount of money for a "proper" dining room set and formal drapes and matching furniture and shit.

And then I looked at it one day and realized it wasn't what I wanted anymore. For a while I thrilled to that "lovely home" thing but now I'm just tired of it. It feels so unlike me, so wasteful. The house doesn't reflect the fun, carefree lifestyle I now try to lead. The dining room's formality makes me feel like I shouldn't be in there, like it's some sacred shrine to china or something.

So I decided I need to do something about all this. However, I wanted to do it without violating my new "cash only" status.

First step was to list some furniture and the formal drapes on my employee exchange. Next step (much harder) was to wait until people actually wanted to BUY my stuff before I went out and bought new.

But that difficult second step has given me an unexpected blessing. I now have time to think and consider all the different possibilities for what I REALLY WANT in my space. And it's given me enough time to think on whether or not I actually want to use some things I already own or if they are all going to hit the street.

What has amazed me is how little the things I actually LIKE cost, as opposed to the "proper" things! I spent over $800 covering that bay window. And now I can't even stand those drapes. They're too heavy, for one thing. And for another, they are such a stuffy color. And third, they have to be either open or closed, relatively permanently. I can't just close them without taking down the rods and rearranging because they require intermediate brackets to keep those heavy rods from sagging.

I decided I'd rather have sheers that let the light in, but that can be closed in the evening for a bit of privacy. I still loved the shimmery sheers I had in my dining room. So yesterday I washed them and hung them up on temporary rods just to see how they would look. It changes the entire outlook of the room! In an amazing way! I don't, however, have enough of them to cover the whole window, SO I'm going to buy a pair of brightly colored sheers from Ikea and put one on each side. That way I'll still have the look of "layered" drapes and sheers, but the light can shine through. I toyed with the idea of putting all new sheers, but the ones I like are ORANGE and I don't know if I can handle quite that much orange. I can always change my mind and get more if i want the wall-of-orange effect.

So for the curtain wire (to replace those heavy rods) it's only $15, and the pair of sheers is only $8.99. So I can cover the window for $24. I think that's a steal!

I'm going to leave the rod in the dining room because it is a much smaller window and it doesn't need an intermediate bracket. I'm getting rid of the fussy patriot valance and just putting up pretty purple sheers on curtain rings.

Dining room total will be only two sets of sheers $8.99 each so under $20 for the dining room "makeover".

I believe the bedroom curtains are getting the boot as well. They are pretty yellow but the walls are a very light green and they don't add any pizazz, they just sort of blend. The rods are fine but the finials are discolored. I have two possibilities in mind; one to buy inexpensive rods to replace them and two to try painting the discolored finials with pearlescent paint. Maybe I'll try the second option first and if I don't like the effect, nothing lost. The curtains I picked out for the bedroom are GREEN. Bright green, but in a filmy fabric so they aren't too GREEN :-)

The expensive part of my project is going to be the kitchen table, and even that is not too bad. You see, I always wanted a round pedestal table. My mother told me that the pedestal would drive me nuts and she was right.


Rather than dwell, I'm buying a set from a coworker who moved and can't fit it in her new apartment. It's rectangular and has no pedestal :-) I think it will give my kitchen a little boost as the kitchen is suffering from old-lady-itis. It got better when I put the brushed nickel knobs on the cabinets, but that oak table with the fan back chairs is just not doing it any favors. Time for a little kick in the shins. Now if someone would just buy MY table LOL. Really, it's lovely! And you probably will love the pedestal (heh heh).

So the breakdown is:

Curtain wire: $14.99
1 pair orange curtains: $8.99
2 pair purple curtains: $17.98
2 pair green curtains: $19.98
kitchen table: $250

Total: $311.94

offset by whatever I can get by selling my stuff.

After the curtains are done, the next step will be lighting and decorative objects. I need to analyze whether my displays are cluttery or not, and what to do if they are. And what sort of lighting I need to complete the functionality I want!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Still Going

Yeah, it's only a few days, but I'm proud.

I've started to keep a journal of inexpensive activities, restaurants, and meals to cook. I've also started writing down the things I want to buy so I can have a visual acknowledgment of those desires without actually going and making the purchase.

I have my curtains up on the employee exchange and my fingers crossed that someone out there wants them. PLEASE people. I went to Ikea last night and figured out what I want to buy, and was happy to find that I can do this with very little money.

It felt kind of nice to go shopping and not come home with anything too.

I'm eager to see my house 'spruced up" but I'm actually kind of enjoying waiting to make the purchases until I sell off some of the stuff I already have. We've decided also to sell our kitchen table and chairs and buy a different set, and I'm eager to shop for that too. Someone has one up for sale on the employee exchange, but I'm being good and waiting to sell and have the cash in hand before I buy anything new!

This pattern I'm hoping will mean I'll make each purchase carefully, too. Not just go and wave around my credit card and watch the numbers go WHEEEE.

Monday, May 18, 2009

First cash-only weekend!

I believe it was a success! I withdrew $300 and bought groceries, necessities at Target, a new propane tank for the grill, stuff for the party, and still have money left over.

The hard part will be of course, when the credit card comes and it will not be any bigger but it still will be big, which is so demoralizing when you've been working so hard towards cash.

I did, however, take my credit cards OUT of my wallet. I bought Mr. Knitty and I each a gas card so neither of us actually need a credit card with us at all.

I did my grocery shopping at the cheaper grocery store--I will get back to Whole Foods eventually once I get this under control. I bought a week's worth of groceries and stuff for the party for only $60, which is less than one week's worth of groceries alone at WF.

I am hoping by the end of the summer I will be on an even cash-only basis, where my paychecks that go "into savings" are actually STAYING in there, and I am no longer overdrawing my account, and my credit cards are all at $0. This is my goal!

I also went through the house for "hidden money". I have a collection of $2 bills; almost $20 worth! And I have a box of foreign money that I went through this morning, saved one of each type, and I'm taking the rest to the currency exchange to get spendable money. I have a few things up for sale.

I'm still plowing away at the decluttering. It seems endless, but I am making some progress.

I am also planning some redecorating projects around the house. But CASH ONLY so don't worry. That means I get to think them over and not do them on impulse so I am less likely to make stupid mistakes.

I'm having a wonderful time looking through the IKEA catalogue and coming up with ideas. I looked around my house and realized I had succeded in making my house look "traditional' but I no longer actually want that. So I'm going to modernize...bit by well-thought-out bit.

Friday, May 15, 2009


1. No more paying exorbitant prices for mediocre meals. Eating out will have to come from the following sources: Dominoes pizza ($6 for a Dominator that feeds all three of us), Chinese takeout ($15 for the three of us) and picnics--it's nice out now darn it! Let's eat outside! Even an inexpensive meal at the local restaurant tips out at over $40. That's ridiculous.

2. Movies out are to be a rare treat. Instead, Neflix & popcorn for the three of us. Why do we have an entertainment system anyway, huh?

3. I'm just gonna have to polish my own nails. $20 for a mani and $40 for a pedi is just adding up too fast. No, I don't go every week. But it's still money I could be stashing. Time to learn how to manage my own cuticles.

4. Evening entertainment options will include family badminton games, playing in our small pool, and taking walks to the park. May also include going to the library, fishing in the local pond, and watching local kids play baseball near our house.

5. I'm going to keep with the "inexpensive meals" plan, but instead of doing it in order to afford Whole Foods prices, for a while I'm going to apply the same menu plan and shopping strategy to the regular old grocery store. I'll be making my own spaghetti sauce with canned tomatoes rather than paying for jarred. I'll be buying the same small amounts of meat and spreading them sparingly over several meals. I'll be exploring the peasant cuisines of Italy, Mexico, Greece, and India.

6. I'm not joining the gym, at least for now. Maggie and I will enjoy our Bollywood Dance DVD and go for walks, and run around in the back yard.

7. New books and movies will come from the book exchange where we already have a credit. Once that credit runs out, we'll have to trade in some of our current stuff for new stuff.

My goal in doing this is to be able to put $200 a month into savings. Actual savings, not "until the credit card bill comes" savings.
And my other goal is...

Both credit cards have a balance of....$0.

Coming clean--I suck a $$$ management

I opened up my credit card bill this morning and nearly cried. No, the balance isn't THAT high. It's the fact that, against what I've always believed and practiced, I've been carrying a balance for a few months, and the new charges have already outstripped all that I've tucked away to help chip away at that balance.

I've tried to think from a dozen different angles--maybe we're spending on the wrong things or money is secretly leaking out of our wallets or we're spending unconsciously on small money drains.

But I have to admit the truth. We're spending too much and it's because we have an unrealistic view of what we have.

Mr. Knitty used to give me a set amount of money for groceries and household expenses, while he paid the bills. Contrary to its Draconian feel, I endorsed this plan because it was very easy for me to see the amount of money I had left in my envelope for the pay period.

The problem with this strategy was that the money ran out quickly. And when it did, I would use my credit card for necessities like food and formula. Not too bad. But then I felt guilty at overspending my budget, and so I'd go out and buy something else just to rebel. Quite bad. And then there were all the purchases that "didn't count". Like home improvement things--I couldn't be expected to KNOW that I'd need a new fan in the bedroom, and it's not like that money would be there in a few days anyway, so we might as well put it on the card. And while we're at it, go out for dinner to make up for the annoyance of having to install a new fan. Roughly, I was spending as much or more each month on the credit card as I was in my budget.

After a while, I decided to take over the finances. Mr. Knitty was working longer hours and I said it would be one less thing for him to worry about. I did really good at first. And then an old demon came up to haunt me.

See, I used to use my credit card for stuff, and then once the balance started to creep up on me, I'd vow not to use it and start paying for things only with cash or check. Which was great, except that then when the bill came, all the cash needed for paying that bill was already gone. Which began the familiar cycle of credit cards familiar to most of us. Suddenly, you "needed" to use the card to buy necessities because there wasn't any cash left to pay for them.

I hadn't much liked the cash system because the money always ran out before the things I wanted to buy ran out. And instead of figuring I might be spending too much money, I fell into the trap of believing that this was just one of those annoying evils of cash--that it was inconvenient, you never had the right amount, and who wants to be carrying around that much cash anyway? I decided to use a debit card instead, which seemed to carry the positives of cash but also seemed so much more convenient--I could access all my money at any time.

Except that I'd access all of my money and then some--I've overdrawn my account more than once now. It's usually when we get down to that last $50 or so, and I figure that $15 purchase will be okay, and then the next morning that purchase clears, as do three others that I had forgotten about that took a few days to clear.

I really hate how credit cards and debit cards have that "nasty surprise" aspect to them. You THINK you know what you spent on them. You remember that you had the car fixed, and you bought that wedding gift. But you don't remember all those little $30 purchases that add up so fast. Which is how a bill that I estimate will be about $500 ends up well over $1000.

Part of the problem is that I have the belief that certain "un fun" purchases should not be able to cut into my "fun" money. That $1200 car repair bill means I need to get my nails done MORE, to relax. Besides, $15 won't do much toward that car bill anyway, so I should just enjoy the manicure.

But there's another problem that I don't know how to deal with. I keep trying to set aside some money for the unexpected. I had about $300 at one point, which was great. That month I had a $1200 car repair, $400 worth of medical bills, and more. I never seem to be able to get ahead because "unexpected" is always far bigger than what I have set aside. I can handle an emergency run for diapers or a tank of gas. But $1200 is most of our monthly income. How can I be expected to pay for that? Easy. Put it on the credit card, comfort myself that I'll at least get bonus points, and by the time the bill comes, I'll have figured out what to do.

Never happens.

I keep thinking that maybe there is something BIG that we missed. Like our house was way too expensive or maybe we should have only one car. But the BIG thing I've been overlooking this whole time is we simply spend too much. The reason I didn't like the cash system was because it gave me an honest portrayal of how much I had. And I didn't like that honest portrayal. After grocery shopping, I didn'thave $40 to go out to eat. Instead of taking that as a clue that we didn't have the money to go out to eat, we declared it a "credit card" expense, rather than a "real" expense.

I need to get on top of this. Next post will be my ideas of how.

Monday, May 11, 2009


I really feel like I am seeing some results in my stashbusting efforts. I haven't missed anything yet either, which is very encouraging.

There are a few things that I found that require a little hard love. One rather humorous discovery was at least 8 lbs. of sand from Florida. Yes, instead of filling a little bottle with it, I filled a BAG. And it's still there in my closet! I'm planning to put it in Maggie's sandbox. It will be a little while before I can afford to take her to FL, so this way she can get a little preview of that lovely Florida beach sand. I think the shells will go in there too :-)

I came across an interesting way to think about using stash. Usually I decide I want to make *this object* or *this pattern* and then try to find if I have yarn to suit that. This time what I did was pull out the YARN I wanted to use, and googled it to find a pattern for it. I think I ended up with a better project than I would if I was trying to find a substitute yarn for the project. I ended up with a very nice little silk purse in VERY little time. The pattern is called Unbiased and it's on Knitty; I recommend!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Out Damn Stuff

Yesterday Maggie helped me pare down my fabric stash even more. It now fits in ONE BOX. One box, folks. And it's not an enormous TV size box either, it's an ordinary 15x8x12 rubbermaid box. Actually, it was in an under the bed box but that got repurposed into an impromptu sandbox yesterday, so it went in the smaller box. And it fit!

We are considering unloading EVERYTHING in craft room and putting it into containers anew, as I am certain there are more things to get rid of, and many things that can share boxes, reducing the amount of boxes we need.

I am having vague thoughts of bringing my sewing machine downstairs. There is plenty of space now with the loveseat gone. I could actually turn parts of the dining room into a "craft room" and then it would no longer be a colossal waste. I could work on projects with Maggie and while she watches TV. I mean, half of my buffet is empty, and I could make it..er...more empty by consolidating stuff. I always convince myself that being able to close off the craft room is this huge plus, but maybe it really isn't. HA maybe I could even install a fold down ironing board on the back of the garage door--wouldn't that be a stitch?

Maybe I'm having more than "vague" thoughts.

I have decided to limit myself to only three major crafts: yarnwork (knitting and crochet), beads, and some basic sewing. And Maggie has one craft--gluing things to other things, so we have that stuff too. But that means we get to release a lot of things to new homes. With a more manageable stash, maybe we can keep our ideas fresh and not be bogged down by a huge backlog of projects we've lost interest in!


I am reconsidering some of the handmade Xmas gifts and birthday gifts. While there are still some folks who I would want to make things for, and who love to receive it, all in all I think that some of my things are becoming excess in the recipient's lives, and in mine. I fully admit that some things are made to cross someone off the list, rather than for the sheer joy of making something for that person.

I also realized that, while I was patting myself on the back for "saving" all this money by making gifts, I put an ENORMOUS amount of time into making gifts for both Xmas and birthdays. I begin my Xmas crafting in January--sometimes before. I maintain a "gift" drawer all year. I'm wondering if, with other folks decluttering as well, if this might not be the year to start doing a "gift card Xmas". If I set aside a few bucks each month, instead of hours and hours and hours of time, I could buy each family member a gift card to a business they like to patronize.

I have to admit that while it is fun to open presents, gift cards are ALWAYS welcome. That dinner out when I'd rather not cook is almost always even more awesome than another tchotchke when I have so so many already. As we all get older and our tastes change, it's getting harder to buy for each other. I think this might be the time to make a switch. I will still do some handmade gifts, but rather than stress myself out all year over Xmas, I'm going to save my sanity!

Monday, May 04, 2009

What IS the Condo Fantasy?

Since I really don't want to actually move, I decided to try and see what the ideals are for me about this pervasive Condo Fantasy (CF). What was it that made the concept appeal to me so much? What was I hoping to gain from this idea?

1. Financial. There are condos in my neighborhood that I could pay off in full with the proceeds from my (theoretical) house sale. My taxes would be lower, as would my utility bills. Incidentals would also be less, as I would not have to maintain the exterior, and home improvement projects would be at a minimum. Insurance would be less as well.

1A. This would mean that Mr. Knitty could work fewer hours, we wouldn't have to stretch to pay the bills, we could afford niceties like wireless internet and cable easily. It would also mean more time together.

2. Stuff. I find the notion of an excuse to get rid of a large amount of stuff to be very appealing. Things that while I might keep in a large space, I could let go of if I *had* to. Some things would be streamlining things; not having both a kitchen table AND a dining room, combining our home entertainment stuff, etc.

3. Time. I don't have a high standard of clean, and yet I am never able to keep on top of even bare minimum housework in my large house. Three bathrooms to keep clean, a spare bedroom that ends up a dumping ground, keeping an eye on rodent invaders, moisture issues, status updates on major home systems, etc. I would love to be able to complete my home cleaning in a smaller amount of time.

4. Life. I feel as if I had less housework, money, and stuff to worry about, I would have more time to live. More time to go to the park. More time to take weekend trips. More time to spend time with other moms & friends.

4B. This supposes that I HAVE other mom friends, and this is something I'd really like--to expand my network of mom friends and just general friends. I have a small circle of close friends with busy lives and geographical issues, and I don't get to see them as often as I'd like to, and rarely on the spur of the moment for an afternoon of tea and chat.

And so there it is. Part of me enjoys the fact that I have a "fully stocked" kitchen, with gadgets galore. I mean, I have a blender, a food processor, and immersion blender, a mixer, and a hand mixer. Come on! Sure, they all have different uses, but frankly I rarely use them, except for the hand mixer, which I do in fact use a lot. Part of me would really not mind having an "excuse" to pare down.

Part of me loves my beautiful grown up dining room set....but part of me feels that it's a colossal waste of money and space to be used only 4 times a year.

Part of me loves having a "guest room" but part of me wishes the whole room would fall off the house one day, because then I would no longer have a "dumping ground" to deal with all the time. I don't really need a "guest room" or a "craft room" or an "office". I rarely have overnight guests, I knit in my lap, and my laptop follows me around the house. If I may, I need to save my wall hangings, the quilt on the bed, my sewing machine, my yarn, and my knitting needles but that's really all, okay?