Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Hard Times--Grateful

Every once in a while, I catch myself recalling something that I always took for granted, and it still surprises me. For example, this year I altered my winter coat and it fits so nicely and looks so fresh I'm really happy with it. I was thinking how glad I was that I didn't have to buy a new one when I recalled that I used to think I was being thrifty to buy a new coat only every other year.

Another example is workout clothes. Whenever I would begin a new workout plan the first thing I'd do would be to buy new workout clothes. Cute little matched outfits (that I'd end up not wearing when I abandoned the exercise plan). When I first started Pilates classes, the classes themselves were a big expense, and so I had to choose--did I want classes or fancy clothes? I went for the classes--and wore my paint-stained around-the-house yoga pants and t shirts. Sometimes I felt a little self conscious--the other ladies all had nice matched outfits. And my pants were stretched out and falling down. And my tshirts kept shifting uncomfortably. I spent half the class readjusting my clothes.

Finally, after being in the class for 4 months, I came across a bonanza of clearanced workout clothes at JC Penney. At the end of the summer, those capris and short sleeved shirts (perfect for my indoor class) were down 80% off. Penney's is one of the few stores that allows their coupons to be used on clearance items. The pants were $10.80, and the top was $5.60. My two $10-off a $10 purchase coupons were suitable for the pants, but I needed to spend a little more in order to....save a little more. So I browsed all the clearance racks in the store. I found a bra just my size and brand, marked down to $6 (they are usually about $22). Thrilled, I spent about $4 and left the store with a new, comfy, and non-paint-stained exercise outfit, and a brand new bra (I had two, but a third one never hurts).

Without sounding stupid, I'm grateful for my new workout outfit in a way I was never grateful for the other ones in the past. I made myself wait to "indulge", I didn't just buy them because they were pretty, I had no credit card bill to follow me, and I took enough classes in my ratty clothes to be really grateful for the nice ones now.

In the same way, I am grateful every day that I get dressed in my nice work clothes and have nice, professional, comfy clothes. I no longer have nothing but jeans and tee shirts. I have nice slacks and blouses, nice sweaters and good shoes, a nice little cardi, and nice bras to go under and make it all pull together. And it cost me virtually nothing, but I am grateful because I had to work to get it. Not just going-to-work work but trolling thrift shops, altering, repairing, etc.

I realized I put a higher value on my work than my money. A few days after I've put $300 on the credit card for a new wardrobe I've forgotten about it. But every time I put on that pair of pants I remember the hours of work it took to rummage them out of the clothing giveaway, figure out their fit problems, take them apart, and figure out how to make them fit, and then put them all back together. I remember all the trips to the thrift shop where I came up with nothing when I put on the things from my "score" trips.

It's gotten to the point where I feel a little strange paying full price for anything. The options seem so limitless--what do I pick? The clearance rack or the thrift store narrows it down so much---and sometimes I find things there that I still think are too much money. It's really hard to pay more than $8 or $10 on something now that most of my things are around $5 or $6. I used to consider Target so cheap "back in the day" but now it seems like any other high priced department store. Furthermore, the quality at Target isn't always there. It's tough to pay $25 for a pair of pants that are poorly made when you're used to high quality clothing for less than $10.

I used to take for granted that at the beginning of each season I'd go shopping. It was just what you did. A new bathing suit each year (if not a two piece for the pool and a one piece for laps). A new coat each year (last year's isn't in style, and who wants to dry clean? Besides, a new coat makes the bitterness of winter easier to swallow). A new dress for every event (can't look the same in all the pictures). New workout clothes, new shoes every fall, new tee shirts every summer.

Now I take it as a point of pride that I'm NOT buying new each season. I fixed up last year's coat and I'm hoping to be wearing it several winters more (the cut is fabulous and so is the color). I am wearing a new swimsuit---that I got off the clearance rack for $14. My lap swimming suit I got for free at the clothing exchange. I have one nice dress ($15 on the clearance rack) and if I need a fancier one I'm waiting until the event shows up before I buy! I did buy one new pair of shoes this fall......at the thrift shop. The rubber is wearing on the heel, so I'm planning to get them resoled. They were only $4 to begin with, so the $10 to resole them still puts them below Target prices.....

and they're Kenneth Cole.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Hard Times--Holiday Decorations

I never much got into holiday decor. I'm not a seasonal-decor gal, and holiday stuff always seemed sort of....tacky I guess. The first year I owned a house I was all excited to hang outdoor lights and put up an enormous Christmas tree. The tree dominated our living room for 6 weeks before I couldn't stand it anymore, and the holiday lights all fell down after the first ice storm. After that, I didn't bother with much beyond the tree.

I certainly didn't mess around much with outdoor lights. I had those nets that go over the bushes, and after only two years of service they died on me. I discovered it was because birds pecked at the red lights, thinking they were berries, and it shorted out the whole thing.

Now that my kid is four, she's old enough to go..."heyyyyy why do our neighbors have pretty lights and we don't??"

Gulp. Bad Mom moment. 5 years ago I would have solved the problem by pulling out my credit card and buying some stuff at Target. Then again, 5 years ago I didn't have a kid and didn't need to. Logic aside, I didn't have a whole lot of money to put towards this, but I suddenly shared her enthusiasm. I wanted pretty lights too. I bought a few strands at the Salvation Army, plus a light-up (twinkling!) J-O-Y sign that hangs in the window. Cost: $18

My mom used to have some lighted deer that she put in her yard. She had offered me one last year, so I asked for one this year. She had sold them at the garage sale in the summer. She gave me a Frosty the Snowman, however. I put him up, then I dug around to see if I had any spare lights. They were all burned out. I used my final strand to try to make a sparkleball. I ended up with 160 cracked plastic cups, a burned out string of bulbs, and two huge blisters on my hand.

I turned to Craigslist, that great online garage sale of stuff, haven for those who need stuff and don't have money to buy it with. I kept finding people who wanted to sell their Christmas decorations for the same amount (or more) than it cost to buy new. I found a few people selling lighted deer for only a few dollars, but they were all so far away it wasn't worth the drive.

Finally, I hit upon a listing for a lighted deer, 6 strings of lights, and a set of stakes to put in the ground to hold the lights. I called her right away, dispatched my husband to acquire them, and spent the next day lighting up our house and yard. Cost: $25

Now I was missing a wreath for the door. I don't like ordinary wreaths with berries and pine cones and stuff. I like unconventional wreaths. I really wanted one of those made of glass balls; but they were $25 at the Target. Not wanting to double my budget I dug around at my grandpa's house and found a box of vintage glass ornaments that were all missing their tops. You know that little wire thingie that sticks in them? So they were pretty much useless for ornaments, but perfect for a wreath. I asked my dad to cut out wreath shape for me. It took a couple of tries (the balls didn't stay on with hot glue, they started falling right off!) but I now have a beautiful (and huge) glass ball wreath on my door. Cost: $0

On my way to Grandpa's I noticed a house with a box from a lighted deer out for the trash. I figured it was probably just the empty box from their (obviously new) deer display. On the way home, I passed it again, and noticed the deer on the box didn't match the new deer. I passed by, thinking no way would someone be tossing a 48" animated deer. Finally I turned around just to check. It was exactly what was in the box. A 48" lighted, animated "grapevine" deer, all folded up from being put out last year. I proudly brought him home.

I figured that he either didn't light up or his motor was broken. I figured at the very least I'd have a large, still, unlit deer, which was still cool. Well, his motor was fine, but his lights were in fact burned out. Upon closer inspection I realized they were just ordinary strings of lights attached with little plastic clips. As luck would have it, my cousin, hearing about my lack of "pretty lights" gave me a box of lights she didn't need anymore because she got a prelit tree.

After putting the kid to bed, I sat down with my box of lights and a pair of longnose pliers. Clip by clip I followed the path of the old lights, removing them one at a time and putting in the new strand. It took me a couple of hours, but I now have a huge lighted and animated deer that cost me literally nothing. Cost: $0.

So now, our house just about rivals the Griswold house. And all it took was about $40, some ingenuity, a careful trashpicking eye, and a bunch of handiwork.

I think that's actually better than using the credit card.