This article first appeared over at ClarkHoward.com.

Are you tired on clicking articles that promise you the “ten best frugal tips!” but are disappointingly just the same tired suggestions to “skip that morning latte” or “pack your work lunch?” Yeah, me too. I crave outside the box frugal ideas when I read an article. I want to know what the cheapest of the cheap are doing to save money! I may not employ very single one of their ideas, but I can certainly find inspiration within their creative and dedicated frugality.

Linda: We’ve had a drought here in California for the last 5 years. I always catch the clean shower water while I wait for the water to heat up, and then I use it for my vegetable garden. And if I take a bath, I scoop that water out bucket by bucket to water my non-edible plants and flowers.

Kathy-Jane: We live in a historic art deco house, (115 years old now) and when my dad sees another such house being renovated/demolished in our town, he goes dumpster diving. Saved amazing wooden doors, metal locks, furniture . . . repaired a lot of it and used it here.

Lesley: I ate the same two meals for lunch and dinner pretty much every day for three years while in college: lentil-vegetable chili with rice, or rice with pintos and salsa. I still eat both of those things, but not quite so much.

Phyllis: I painted a nasty old toilet seat. I already had paint and the toilet seat, so no cost!

Daena: I use white vinegar and/or baking soda to clean everything – except windows, I have some special cloth that does that with only water – but I never spend money on cleaning supplies.

Tammi: I get souvenirs ahead of time before we go to a theme park like Disney, by asking friends and family if they have items they no longer get want or need. This way my son can get “stuff” at the park and we don’t spend extra money.

Adela: About ten years ago, after my divorce, I lived without living room furniture for about a year and was quite alright with it; then my friend decided to put a dent in my spartan ways by gifting me the desk and bookshelves from his first time in college. They’re now going on 30 years, and have survived a few moves. I still have them with no plans to replace.

Kim: I know they say not to grocery shop when you’re hungry, but sometimes I luck into stores that are sampling and I end up with a small meal.

Kristi: I cut into my hygiene items such as toothpaste, lotion, and shampoo and conditioner and use every last drop.

Lisa: I dumpster dived for my couch, chair, and table. I’ve also used Freecycle.org to get a toilet, shower and sink. I get a lot of hand me downs from friends and family for myself and for my kids. We also have a small group where we trade for things we need for things we no longer need.

Mary: I picked up a plastic travel mug off the road, because Shipley’s Donuts will refill them for 50 cents a cup.

CJ: We collected rainwater for using in the greenhouse, (which was made out of scrounged materials) for the garden, to fill the waterfowl pools, water all the farm animals, truck washing and flushing. In a pinch I’ve also used it in the washing machine.

MJ: I reuse baking paper, (parchment) wash out ziplock bags and use powdered milk for all my baking. We grow all our own herbs and some of our own veggies and fruit.

David: I picked up a free desk left on the side of the road while between jobs on a night shift.

Kristy: I once found a dumpster full of bread and bagels behind a bakery. It was winter, so all of it was frozen in clean bags. I took those bags home and ate bread forever. Lol.

Sandy: All of our furniture and kitchen supplies are from deceased grandparents and garage sales. Most of my clothing and jewelry come from garage sales. My produce comes from gardening and foraging, which I then freeze for winter.

Lynn: When we were kids our town had an annual “large stuff/household items” trash pick-up. People would put their stuff out at the curb, and we kids would ride our bikes around the neighborhood and freely and unabashedly scavenge. And – adults did it too, just not in their own neighborhoods!

Korina: We live in a historic art deco house (115 years old now) and when my dad sees another such house being renovated/demolished in our town, he goes dumpster diving. Saved amazing wooden doors, metal locks, furniture . . . repaired a lot of it and used it here.

Kris: I’d have to thank a college roommate for this story. My roommates and I were having a tough time at a school without a cafeteria and we couldn’t find jobs. The neighbors below were kicked out of the dorm and the stuff they left was bagged and thrown out. We went in while the cleaning crew wasn’t there and took all their nasty, dirty dishes from the sink, refrigerator, and counter tops (the cupboards were bare.) We soaked, scrubbed, bleached, washed the dishes, pots and pans, silverware, etc. We finally had something to cook and eat with!

Julie: We don’t have a heating system in our home other than a wood burning stove. We’re in Pennsylvania and spent $0 on wood this year. This is because we had some leftover from last year, as well as a few dead trees in our property that my husband cut up.

Alexa: At one point we cancelled the phone/internet/tv subscription and just used our pay as you go track phones ($200/year for 2 phones), and paid $15/month for a small data plan for internet (just so my husband could check his Etsy sales.) We ended up saving about $100/month and we felt so free from that constant internet pull.

Joy: In Alaska you can get on a roadkill list. The state troopers call you when a moose gets hit and you can claim it if it’s your turn.

Marcie: I’ve moved several times and I think paying for new boxes is absurd. I drive behind strip malls and dumpster dive for boxes. They even have dumpsters for cardboard only, so no ick factor!

Randall: I worked on the crew that built a huge log cabin for a client. He only used it in the Winter. He couldn’t, and didn’t want to shovel the snow off the wraparound deck we built around his house. None of the neighbors that lived nearby would do it either, so I took on the task. Turned out it was quite relaxing. Put on headphones and shovel. We had an arrangement based on how many inches of snow. From November to March I would bring in between $200 to $400 a month.

Patricia: I work two jobs, and after the office parties I always volunteer to stay and clean up. People think I’m so nice, but in reality, I’m packaging up the leftover food to take home. My weekend job is security at a banquet hall, and after the weddings and such, the chef always says to “take whatever you want, we’re only going to toss it.” Many times I get a week’s worth of high end food already cooked. I take what I can carry, and freeze what I can’t.

Korina: When I was about 16, my dad saw a mobile phone in the middle of a busy crossroad, so he stopped and picked it up. We had no way of identifying who it belonged to (busy tourist spot, no info in the phone.) It looked like someone probably left it on the top of their car and it fell off when they turned. We got a prepaid sim card . . . and lil’ teenager me had my first mobile phone!

Nicole:  The garbage in my apartment complex had a large snapware container in it with some moldy muffins. It was on top of some stuff toward the bottom of a fairly clean bin. So, before dumping my stuff, I reached my whole self in so I could grab the container (like the size of a casserole, so I know it was expensive new.) I opened it and dumped out the moldy muffins in the food/yard waste bin, and then cleaned the container at home.

Catherine: My bathroom walls (floor to ceiling) have unique tile designs composed of the cheapest plain square white tiles interspersed with compositions of broken china, some accidentally smashed at home, some bought at thrift stores or auctions, or from a high end antique store that scorns to sell chipped china. (But you can scavenge their discard box in the basement if you ask nicely.)

Najia: I fed my family and numerous other families (all military) from the thrown away food at the commissary for months. I actually started an unofficial food bank from their incredible wastefulness.

Cat: I am a traveling RN and plan my grocery, gasoline, and other stops around where I’m seeing patients. Once home, I rarely leave unless absolutely necessary.

Cindy: Didn’t have a washing machine when we were first married. Did all laundry, including diapers, by hand in the bathtub.

Conclusion:

Whether you find inspiration from frugal folk who save their bath water or those who dumpster dive for still usable items, these ideas are still a thousand times more useful than yet another barista-themed frugality article. You may not be ready to seek out your state’s “roadkill list,” but you can certainly set aside your “ick factor” and scavenge a perfectly good snapware dish or a freezer full of delicious wedding leftovers. I know I’m freshly inspired to find new ways to work frugality into my daily routine.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Striking Gold at Goodwill

by Katy on March 21, 2017 · 8 comments

The following is a previously published post. Enjoy!

My sister and her family are in town right now, which of course necessitated a trip to Goodwill. I did my usual sweep through the store, and then just followed my sister around, chatting and glancing down at the shelves. And then suddenly, there it was. Shining its golden surface up at me like a forgotten bottle of whiskey floating in Charlie Sheen’s toilet tank.

The bottom half of a Swiss Gold reusable coffee filter.

Let me start from the beginning. My husband is a coffee drinker, and has been using the same Swiss Gold coffee filter over the past ten years or so. These 23 Karat gold individual filters normally cost $19, so it was a big decision to buy one at the time. We’ve been hesitant to buy another one, so subsequently we baby the one we have. Unfortunately, daily use has taken its toll, and the coffee is not as beautifully filtered as it once was. And ironically, I was just waxing poetic about how I once found one a garage sale for 50¢, which I then gave to my father.

And here’s the best part. I only needed the bottom piece to the filter, and that’s exactly what was sitting on the Goodwill shelf.

I love Goodwill, and I will try to remember this purchase, as I try to hold back from going too often in an attempt to avoid recluttering my house. Such a perfect purchase! Not clutter at all!

Ahh . . . .

 

Hello, lover.

Can you tell which filter is the new one?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 8 comments }

I Tested These Four Cleaning Hacks!

by Katy on March 20, 2017 · 30 comments

This blog post originally appeared over at ClarkHoward.com.

What is it about the word “hack” that elevates a mundane chore into something more fun? Is it because a hack implies a clever solution to an otherwise frustrating household dilemma? Whatever it is, I love a good hack and I know that I’m not alone. Especially when those hacks require zero extra purchases and require nothing more than my frugal supplies already on hand.

However, a lot of these supposed miraculous internet hacks are a bust, so I went through the trouble of testing four of them to save Clark Howard readers from wasting your precious time and energy.

Hack #1: Squeegee on carpet.

This hack has legions of fans who love how the lowly squeegee easily removes pet hair from hard to clean carpeted stairs. For this test, I borrowed my neighbor’s cat friendly stairs, as my own are wood. I doubted whether there’d be anything to clean, as my neighbor’s house appears immaculate at all times. Lo and behold, I was rewarded with a satisfying amount of cat hair after just a few swipes with my $1 Dollar Tree squeegee.

Hack #1 — thumbs up!

Hack #2: Polish silver with boiling water, baking soda and aluminum foil.

This hack promises to polish silver without the work of scrubbing, and it’s actually been in my rotation for a number of years. I love my old silverware, but I hate, hate, hate the work of polishing it. (Hand cramps.) My mother has informed me that this method is incorrect, as it temporarily removes the dark details, but I still rebelliously dip my silver into this magical elixir.

Instructions: Line a pan with aluminum foil, add in a couple tablespoons of baking soda and boiling water almost to the top. Dip your silver into the solution and watch the tarnish magically disappear. Pro tip: Use tongs, as the silver quickly gets very hot.

Hack #2 –Thumbs up! (Sorry, mom.)

Hack #3: Use an extra stretchy sock for your Swiffer Sweeper.

I love the convenience of a Swiffer to clean my 104-year-old hardwood floors, but I hate spending money on expensive and wasteful disposable cloths. Enter an extra stretchy sock to the rescue! I have a couple pairs of these puffy socks, which are extremely stretchy and work perfectly for this function. I simply dampen the sock, and then swiff and sweep to my heart’s content. I then switch it out with a new sock to dry any wet areas. The best part is that the sock has enough texture for actual cleaning, plus they’re washable for reuse.

Hack #3 — Thumbs up!

Hack #4: Clean your oven door using vinegar and baking soda.

It seems like however much I clean it, the inside of my oven door reverts to being a baked on mess. I’d seen online tips for sprinkling the door with baking soda and then spraying with vinegar as an eco-friendly cleaning hack. This method sounded easy, so I happily gave it a try. Unfortunately, this hack was a bust. Yes, I was able to get a decent before-and-after photo, but it was only with a tremendous amount of back breaking scrubbing and elbow grease. This was far from being any type of clever solution. Seriously, it took forever.

Hack #4 — Thumbs down!

Conclusion:

Although the fourth hack got a resounding thumbs down in my book, it was still worth a try. I want to work smarter not harder when it comes to maintaining my home and its contents, and without a bit of experimentation I’d never have discovered how well the other three hacks worked. And nothing makes me feel smarter than finding clever solutions to life’s little problems.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on March 19, 2017 · 85 comments

  1. My mother and I spent an afternoon going to Goodwills, including one that was selling this large-for-a-toy-but-small-for-a-human Clone Trooper. Needless to say, I couldn’t resist having a bit of fun with it before putting it back on the shelf. We also stopped into a pay-by-the-pound Goodwill Outlet where I bought a hand embroidered pillow, a nice thick potholder, a Led Zeppelin T-shirt, a laser cut Star Wars clock up-cycled from an old record and some greeting card and vintage paper napkins for my mother. Total cost? $4.97. Guess which items are for my son’s upcoming 19th birthday?
  2. I wrote five Clark Howard articles this week, I worked two hospital shifts, I helped my mother clean one of her guest cottages and I gave away multiple items through my Buy Nothing Group.
  3. I binge watched The Kindness Diaries on Netflix. A great project from Leon Logothetis chronicling his around the world journey to rely solely on the kindness of strangers. Very much a message about non-consumerism, and I highly recommend for readers of this blog.
  4. I drove my mother through a Wendy’s restaurant, and treated her to a free Frosty Jr. using my $1 Frosty key tag that supports the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. (You buy the key tag once for $1 and then get a year of Frosty Jr.’s for free.)
  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet or a vulgar gold-plated apartment in the sky.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 85 comments }

This blog post first appeared over at ClarkHoward.com.

You’re a fan of Clark Howard, which means that you’re thoughtful and deliberate with your spending. In short, you’re “Clark Smart.” You think twice before spending your hard earned money, and when your social media feed suddenly fills up with people posting about how Nordstrom is selling a pair of $95 TopShop “Clear Knee Mom Jeans,” you think “that must be a joke!”

But they’re no joke.

Here’s the description: “Slick plastic panels bare your knees for a futuristic feel in tapered and cropped high-waist jeans.” Yes, you read that right. The future now includes plastic encased knees, plus a high waist to create the perfect “mom jeans” aesthetic.

Of course, the internet exploded with incredulous responses. Buzzfeed, quickly termed them “jindows,” (jeans + windows) and reported that they were “dividing the nation.” And Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Tommy Lenk, (famous for recreating celebrity looks from household detritus) added this photo to his Instagram feed. and shared that his “knees were dripping with sweat after two minutes.”

Those of us old enough to remember the 1981 Ryan O’Neal film So Fine recognize the look. Of course, that film is described as a “satirical romp,” and should in no way be inspiring any real life fashion trends.

Perhaps the look is prompted by people complaining of shiveringly wet knees after wearing TopShops’s “Hayden Ripped Boyfriend Jeans.” After all, they’re a British fashion house, and what is England known for besides rain?

Look, brr . . .

Luckily, you’re too smart to be tempted by this bizarre (and hopefully brief) style trend. You follow Will Roger’s famous quote that “The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your back pocket”

That is, if your jeans still include a back pocket.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 26 comments }

Five Frugal Things

by Katy on March 15, 2017 · 61 comments

  1. I went for a walk with my friend Lise yesterday. We dropped off plastics recycling, deposited checks at our credit union, returned library materials and then stopped into Fred Meyer, where I bought bananas and two loaves of 79¢ clearance-priced bread. I didn’t use Pi Day (3/14) as an excuse to buy a $3.14 apple pie, as 1) I don’t understand what “Pi” really is, and 2) I’m better off without a gross but delicious grocery store pie.
  2. I ran my hand under the coin counting machine at the credit union and was rewarded with four quarters, one nickel and a single penny. I added this money to my Found Change Challenge jar.
  3. I put together two quick offers for my Buy Nothing Group. I now have people in a hippity-hoppity mood to come over to pick up boxes of leftover sparklers and four packets of matcha green tea powder that I received as gifts. Slightly less clutter in my kitchen and I put already manufactured goods into the hands of people who will use them, I call that a win!
  4. I wrote and submitted two new articles for Clark Howard yesterday. The next tuition/room/board payment is looming large, (April 1st) so I’m taking full advantage of any and all income opportunities. I’m puttering around the house today to get ready for house guests, but hope to put together at least one more article.
  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet or a vulgar gold-plated apartment in the sky.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 61 comments }

Lexie House, The End of an Era

by Katy on March 14, 2017 · 18 comments

If you’ve been reading The Non-Consumer Advocate for any length of time, you’ve heard me refer to my mother’s “guest cottages.” Although these two small houses predate the current tiny house movement by a century or so, they’re 100% on trend with the current less is more mentality.

My mother rents them out through VRBO.com and HomeAway.com, and I help out in various ways, but mostly by helping clean between tenants and other miscellaneous chores. It’s a bit of work for me, and a tremendous amount of work for my mother.

Here’s Lexie House, my favorite:

And from the other direction:

So cute, right?

I think my parents bought this income property in 2007, and it’s been fun to have in the family. My family has staycationed here a time or two, most memorably during one horrendous heat wave, as it’s air conditioned and walking distance from a swimming pool. My young adult sons have fond memories of watching cable TV here, as well as rambunctiously throwing stuffed animals through a mysterious open square that’s placed high up between the living room and second bedroom. An odd, yet exciting sport that we invented.

My mother and step father put Lexie House up for sale last year and have been dealing with offers and issues ever since. The property finally sold last week and so my mother and I went over last night for one final cleaning session. It was bittersweet, and we took our time to ready it for the new owners. (Luckily, they want the entire contents of the house, which means no packing and schlepping.)

I’ll miss the extra income, but mostly I’ll miss the camaraderie of the shared work. Luckily, there’s still one other property, which my parents are unlikely to sell.

Although I’m nostalgic about the time my mother and I spent in the shared task of cleaning Lexie, I won’t miss the toilet scrubbing and surprise messes that people would invariably leave behind.

Goodbye, sweet Lexie House. May your new owners have as much fun with you as we did.

{ 18 comments }

Five Frugal Things

by Katy on March 13, 2017 · 55 comments

  1. I’m utterly exhausted from a grueling day at the hospital yesterday, so I’m mostly just sacked out on the couch and goofing around on Swagbucks. Of course I brought leftovers for my work lunch, drank the free crappy coffee and then drank the free wonderful tea. My cat thinks I should be petting her, but that would require physical effort.
  2. I watched a couple episodes of Outlander last night, as the library DVD’s are due in a couple of days and I don’t want to accrue any fines. (Oops . . . I just checked and the second season of Outlander was actually due yesterday. I guess the only responsible thing to do is to schedule some back-to-back episodes. What can I say? I’m committed to my frugality!)
  3. I made plans to clean one of my mother’s guest cottages this evening as well as meet up for a walk with a friend tomorrow. I rarely spend money to hang out with friends and I’ve always got a side gig or two to bring in extra money. This is key to my financial wellbeing.
  4. I seriously have zero energy today, but I’m going to force myself to cook up a few make ahead meals to make sure already bought food and ingredients won’t go to waste. Future Katy will be happy that today Katy forced her tuchus off the couch. There will be caffeine. Cascading waterfalls of caffeine.
  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet or a vulgar gold-plated apartment in the sky.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 55 comments }

The blog post first appeared over at ClarkHoward.com.

If you’re wanting to bring in extra money without a long term commitment, then you might want to look into participating in a consumer focus group. Focus groups are a great way to earn extra cash while sharing your opinion or knowledge on various topics. Essentially, you get paid to give your honest and focused feedback on consumer products or services that require some extra tweaking before heading to market. And the best part? You get paid, usually in cash, for just a couple hours of your time.

I’ve participated in three different consumer panels over the past few years, one about marinade labeling, another about a thermal cup design and a third about credit union branding. Each panel took approximately two hours of my evening, and I received between $100 – $150 for my valuable opinions. (And don’t tell anyone, but they were actually really fun.)

Let me paint a picture of what the experience is like. A group of 6-8 of us get seated around a conference table with a professional moderator to guide us through the research. There’s a two-way mirror along one wall, where marketing bigwigs hang on our every word. (Or more likely, a video camera.) Most of our feedback is verbal, although a small amount is written. There’s zero preparation required, so all you have to bring is your opinionated self.

Also, there are snacks. Gotta love free food!

How to make money through focus groups:

  • Find a company with an outlet in your area. The company I’ve worked with has offices here in Portland, Oregon, as well as Las Vegas and Seattle. Larger markets such as Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta will offer more than my own mid-size city, but you can find marketing companies almost anywhere through websites such as FocusGroups.org, PaidFocusGroups.com and FocusGroup.com.
  • Click through your area’s focus group website to fill out a profile, then browse through upcoming panels to see if you’re a good fit for any upcoming research. The key is to return to these websites every few weeks to check if any panels match your interests and demographics.
  • Once placed into a focus group, make sure to show up on time and be ready to impart opinions on stuff you might normally not think that much about. Be truthful though, as they’re paying big bucks for your thoughtful feedback.
  • Get paid. It really is this simple.

Here’s a random sample of some focus groups that are currently recruiting:

  • This focus group is “looking for Portland Beer Drinkers! We want to know what you like and don’t like.”
  • This Chicago focus group is scouting for “feedback of people ages 16-24 on the topic of new TV shows.”
  • This San Diego focus group is “looking for male and female science teachers to participate in a new study about Science Teachers.”
  • This New York City focus group is “looking for people, ages 40-64, for an upcoming paid focus group on financial products”

The opportunities are almost endless, and although most focus group require you to come in person, others are online. So really, there’s something for everyone!

Conclusion:

Consumer opinion focus groups are a great way to bring in extra money without the commitment of a traditional job. Perfect for those who need to work from home or choose to limit their commitments. Market researchers need this consumer feedback before rolling out their products and services, so you’re helping to keep half-baked ideas from reaching the market. Plus, it’s a fun way to spend an evening adding money into your wallet instead of draining it.

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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on March 11, 2017 · 72 comments

  1. My husband and I enjoyed a cheap afternoon date yesterday that involved drinking free coffee at Ikea, driving through Wendy’s for a free junior Frosty and then picking up cat litter at Costco. Others might consider our “date” to be less than romantic, but since financial stress is often quoted as being the number one marital stressor, I say that we’re promoting a healthy marriage.
  2. I walked to the mailbox and passed by the above box of CD’s. I was initially excited, until I discovered that the cases were all empty. I wish the owner had taken the time to donate them to Scrap, (and I was tempted to bring them home to save them from littering the landfill) but that way lies madness. And I’ve got enough on my plate as it is.
  3. I vacuumed both the front and back of the carpet remnant that’s been in my son’s room for 19 years, and then replaced it with the $500 Ikea rug that I garbage picked earlier in the week. I immediately listed it on my local Buy Nothing Group. I look around my son’s room and realize that I’ve spent less than $30 for all his furniture. Mind you, there are $10,000 of Legos and Bionicles in the closet, so don’t get too impressed.
  4. Yesterday I dropped off plastics recycling, added some magazines to a Little Free Library, dropped batteries and a CFL lightbulb into Ikea’s recycling bins, found a penny on the ground, watched a couple episodes of  Outlander DVD’s from the library and assembled a dinner using stuff on hand, even though I really didn’t feel like it.
  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet or a vulgar gold-plated apartment in the sky.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Click HERE to follow The Non-Consumer Advocate on Twitter.
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{ 72 comments }