My sister dropped by last night to return my Bissell rug shampooer. She’s selling her truck and wanted to create a not-mildewy vibe for the new owner. I bought the shampooer on Craigslist probably four years ago, and it’s since been borrowed by at least six different people. It’s one of those items that’s perfect for lending out, no need for each person to own one themselves.

Sharing economy at its best.

Although my sister and I live in the same city, we’re bad at arranging time to get together. We live very different lives, (me, the traditional RN and mother of teenage boys, her the professional banjo player who lives in a school bus.) so it’s always nice when we do make the effort to spend time together.)

We were hanging out in the kitchen as I tidied up from dinner and catching up on each other’s lives, when I pointed out how the ceiling has been looking disgusting ever since I went crazy with all the applesauce. Apparently, all the steam condensed on the ceiling and trapped any dirtiness to create a very special brown spottiness. It’s a chore I’d been avoiding, and I somehow ended up on a chair to start wiping it down to show her how gross it was.

Because you know, I’m weird.

Look how foul it was:

Kitchen ceiling

But then the two of decided to try my garbage picked Swiffer to see if it would work to clean the ceiling. Especially since the Swiffer sports a crocheted cover that our third sister made for me.

And that’s when an ordinary Friday night went from dull to epic!

Ceiling crew

And of course, cleaning the kitchen ceiling then prompted washing all the bugs and kitchen schmutz from the light fixture and cleaning/decluttering all the stuff on top of the refrigerator.

We then shared a beer and moved our wild party to the living room.

Yeah, don’t pretend you’re not envious of my glamorous life.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Yesterday I had a whole plan in place about how I was going to the “fancy schmancy beauty school” to get my hair cut. It was going to be free, and I was going to use my free bus pass to avoid paying for parking.

Good plan, right?

But then someone in The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook group posted a video of a woman cutting her own hair, and it just look so easy and it turned out so cute!  And then I started thinking about how if I cut my own hair it wouldn’t eat up half my day and I would be able to open my day up for more productive endeavors.

Good plan, right?

NO! Bad plan, very bad plan!

Here I am before cutting my own hair. It’s very long, too long really as it was getting easily tangled and was looking stringy. Of course, it looks okay in this photo because I had just brushed it, which is how it would stay for a full five minutes per day.

Hair - before

And here I am with my first ponytail. I left it loose in the front because I didn’t want the layers around my face to be too short. So you know, I was being thoughtful and deliberate. Not crazy at all.

1st ponytail

And here’s how my hair looked after the first cut:

1st cut

Of course, I didn’t recognize the perfection. No, I thought I could make it better. (This is where the insane mindset started to take hold.) So I adjusted the ponytail and cut some more.

2nd ponytailSee how my cheeks are getting pinker and pinker? That should have been a red flag for me. But noooooo I had my blinders on.

Here’s how it looked after chop #2. Note the deer in the headlights/tharn look.

2nd haircut

See how the layers around the face are now way too short and unacceptably choppy? “No problem” said I. “I can fix that by moving the ponytail to the back and cutting some length from the hair.

Ponytail #3

I ended up with it short in the front, long in the back hair. A MULLETT! A LADY MULLETT!!!!!!!! (And not even a very good one!)

photo 1

At this point I stopped documenting and started to attempt some damage control. I’ll let your imagination take over, but here are some keyword prompts to guide you.

“Argghhh!”

“Noooooo!”

“Fuuuuuuu!”

It helps if you start to hear the whooshing sound of your pulse in your ears. Nausea also. Definitely some nausea.

I then took the scissors and cut all my hair to the length of the shortest mullet-y bits. Nothing fancy, no tricks, just straight-up scissors on hair.

Cut #156353

Stop me now before I kill again.

sad Katy

So let me be your cautionary tale. Do not cut your own hair if you are the type who is unable to stop.

I have nothing to say. And yes, I’m wearing a hat. And every woman I saw while driving my son to school this morning made me want to cry, because I kept repeatedly thinking “that woman didn’t cut her own hair.”

Frugality gone too far. I’ve finally found it.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Today I Am . . .

by Katy on November 18, 2014 · 24 comments

Today I am . . . 

  • Home from work.
  • Scheduling a free haircut for tomorrow through our local fancy schmancy beauty school.
  • Planning on taking the bus so I don’t have to pay to park in the fancy schmancy downtown neighborhood.
  • Pulling out a tub of miscellaneous papers to organize and shred. (Isn’t it unbelievably satisfying to shred stuff?!)
  • Staying warm under a thick fleece blanket so I can heat just myself instead of an entire 100-year-old house.
  • Buying a Groupon deal which is for a $10 Starbucks ecard for only $5. (My husband buys Starbucks, so he might as well save a few bucks.) Note, this deal has already reached its limit. Sorry. 
  • Still really, really relieved that my husband was not injured in his car accident. But also bummed about my 1996 Subaru Outback being totaled.
  • Kind of tickled that our insurance provided rental car is a Mini Cooper. Wheeeee!!!!!
  • Wishing I had an extra $10,000 set aside for a new-to-me car.
  • Guessing that the insurance company will be giving us a paltry amount for what was an amazing car.
  • Happy that I sold a garbage picked table and chairs for $20.
  • Thinking I should go outside and rake up the leaves while they’re still dry, but also wanting to stay inside where it’s warm and cozy. Ahh . . . the dilemma!
  • Planning on taking my 19-year-old son out thrift shopping for some winter clothing, as he requested. You know . . . after he wakes up.
  • Going to experiment with making pizza in cast iron pans for tonight’s dinner. (We have three pans and only three of us here for dinner tonight.)
  • Hoping to not burn myself with scalding hot cast iron pans.
  • Going to wear the same pair of jeans I’ve been wearing for too many days to admit to. No need to wash them too often and have them wear out.

Now your turn. What are you doing today?

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 November 17, 2014 · 41 comments

  1. Today and every day I choose my outfit from my small collection of thrift shop clothing.
  2. Today and everyday I sit on second hand furniture in my home.
  3. Today and every day I choose the cold water cycle for my laundry.
  4. Today and every day I make my phone calls on my husband’s hand-me-down iPhone 4. (He has the iPhone 5, without any plans to upgrade until it can no longer be avoided.)
  5. I drive my paid-off 1996 and 2005 cars. That was, until someone slammed into my husband yesterday and totaled our 1996 Subaru Outback, which had looked like it was going to last forever. Luckily, no one was hurt. Bad changes sure do happen in a split second.

Now your turn. What frugal things are you doing today?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Ten Ways For A Zero Dollar Christmas

by Katy on November 16, 2014 · 41 comments

Zero Dollar Christmas

I’m from the school of thought that believes that having limitations in life breeds creativity. Sometimes those limitations are yours by choice, but more often they aren’t. Either way, you can choose to bemoan your limitations or you can embrace them.

I choose to embrace my financial limitations.

Challenging myself to come up with creative frugal hacks happens all year long, but my creativity really blooms come gift giving season. (And in a family that includes seven holiday birthdays, I really need to put on my thinking cap!) I normally don’t set a concrete budget for myself, but this year I’ve decided to aim for a zero dollar Christmas/Chanukah/birthday season.

Yes, you read that right. Zero dollars, as in nothing, nada, bupkis.

Will I be able to achieve this goal? Maybe yes, maybe no, but it certainly won’t happen unless I try.

Here’s what I’ll be doing to meet this insane goal:

1) I’m using up some random frequent flier miles through Mags For Miles to get free magazine subscriptions. I hardly ever travel, but when I do, I fly with whoever is cheapest and I have zero brand loyalty. Also, my most recent flights have been randomly booked through my husband’s employer or The Today Show. I always make sure to sign up for a frequent flier accounts, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever accrue enough miles to earn a free ticket. These miles then sit dormant. However, I can spend my miles on free magazine subscriptions! My athletic 15-year-old nephew will be receiving a subscription to Sports Illustrated, (a $39 value) as will my 16-year-old son. This service works for almost all major airlines, and there are many magazines to choose from.

2) I’m registering for American Express’ Small Business Saturday. This program, which runs the Saturday after Thanksgiving (November 29th) rewards card holders who shop at their registered locally owned businesses. For each $10 you spend, American Express will refund you $10. Up to three times! A quick look at my zip code showed over 100 “shopping” options. This didn’t even include the dining, entertainment, travel or services categories! And since my husband and I both hold cards, we’ll be able to double our refunds! That’s $60 free dollars! I plan to buy $10 gift certificates at different businesses, and then let the recipient shop at their own convenience. (BTW, these make great stocking stuffers!)

3) I will be gifting things that came my way for free, and here are three examples so far:

  • My neighbor passed along a brand new Pendleton Wool board shirt, which was too big for him. (A $120 value.) My husband gets itchy from these shirts, but his brother loves them! And since he’s one of the six members of our immediately family with a December/January birthday, he’ll be receiving the shirt.
  • I found a lovely child-size silver and natural stone bracelet on the ground, which will perfectly pair with a review book I received for free about how to make your own earrings. I’ll add some extra beads I already have on hand, and present it all together to my ten-year-old niece.
  • My older son is a true artist, yet he carries either my husband’s ancient and enormous art school portfolio or a paper one leftover from his high school advanced placement art class. So when I spied a perfect medium sized (and new looking) portfolio in a free pile, I snapped it up. I quickly determined that to buy it new would have set me back $45!

4) I will be bringing unwanted books into Powell’s Bookstore in exchange for gift cards and store credit. I know I have an enormous box in my father’s attic, which I’ll sacrifice to the goal of my $0 Christmas! Also, Powell’s sells much much more than books, so I’ll be able to pick up various small gifts this way. (Why I am using the books I’ve stored at my father’s house? Because I’ve already gleaned all unwanted books from my own home!)

5) I will be giving away some items that I already own. And before you start picturing bags of unmatched socks, you need to know that I’ll be gifting some wonderful items. A fantastic blank vintage scrapbook for my sister is one example, but the rest I’ll keep under my hat as family members have been known to read my blog.

6) I do all my internet searches through Swagbucks, which allows me to earn $5 Amazon gift cards. It’s not a lot, but I’m able to accrue enough gift cards to make it worth my while. (I also use my mother’s Amazon Prime account to get the free shipping.)

7) My husband has one of those congratulations-on-ten-years-of-employment gift catalogs. He gets to choose one item, and we’ll use it as an opportunity to get something significant for one of our teenage sons.

8) My husband has a Sears credit card, which he uses for business expenses. His reward this year was $80 in Sears gift cards, which we’ll use to buy gifts.

9) I will gather any unused gift certificates and gift cards and use any remaining balances towards gift giving.

10) I may host a gift swap party at my house. Each invitee would bring three or four items and then have the opportunity to leave with new gift-ready items for people on their own gift lists. One person’s dust catcher is another person’s treasure!

Each and every one of us has different opportunities for free stuff in our lives. I may live within walking distance from an amazing used bookstore, but you might live next to a store that throws out perfectly good merchandise. It’s available for all.

Do you feel a $0 Christmas is possible or even a respectable goal? The average American spent $801 on Christmas in 2013, which when paired with the statistic that those with a credit card balance owe an average of $10,902, means that spending nothing suddenly doesn’t look so bad.

You may notice that I didn’t include any homemade gifts. I may attempt some crafty projects, but those often require purchased goods. And even though I spent money on the supplies, I’ll still be gifting jars of my homemade applesauce.

Would you ever attempt such a drastic limitation to your holiday spending? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Today I Am . . .

by Katy on November 14, 2014 · 15 comments

Before & After

Today I am . . . 

Taking care of bidness business.

  • Organizing the drawers in my built-in buffet.
  • Decluttering the inside of my piano bench. It had been filled with hard copies of interviews I’ve given over the years, but multiple copies of newspapers and magazines was getting out of hand. The newspapers went into the recycling and the magazines will get brought to the waiting room at work. (It was hard to get rid of the extra copies of the NY Times Interview I gave way back in 2009, but holding onto yellowing piles of newspapers is perilously close to hoarding for my comfort.)
  • Continuing to winnow down a big pile of financial and household papers from the dresser in my dining room. This involves following up on general annoying tasks such as scheduling the mini-van for a recall-related repair and calling the high school about a $100 graphing calculator that my son misplaced. However, I did come across a $218 check from our mortgage company that I hadn’t even known about. (Apparently they over estimated how much escrow money to withhold.)
  • Running errands to pick up prescriptions from various doctors.
  • Writing a letter to my best friend in response to one she sent me a few weeks ago.
  • Looking forward to taking my mother to see the original version of The Miracle on 34th Street tomorrow.
  • Taking a broken TV to Goodwill to take advantage of their free e-cycling program.
  • Getting that wonderful feeling of lightness and accomplishment one achieves from motoring through a horrifically long to-do list.

Now your turn. What are you doing today? 

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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I try to minimize my driving, so it’s rare that I ever drive across town (or anywhere, really) for a single errand. So when my son needed a ride to school yesterday, I threw in a few extra N.E. Portland stops to take full advantage of the neighborhood.

First I stopped at my father’s house where I returned some tennis rackets I’d borrowed a loooong time ago. I also spent an hour or so visiting with the family and wandering around the 110-year-old house that I grew up in. I ate some toast made from my father’s homemade bread and drank a cup of tea.

The morning light was throwing rainbows through the beveled glass windows, and my father put one of his needlepoint mazes on the ground to catch the colors.

rainbow maze

My boots also got the rainbow treatment:

rainbow boots

This miniature Eames chair up against the books caught my eye as well:

miniature Eames chair

I then drove the short distance over to The Title Wave used library store. I have a gift certificate that I’ve been slowly whittling down over the past couple of years, so I indulged in a fat stack of decor magazines priced at 50¢ apiece:

used magazines

Not an exciting, brag worthy day by any means, (I also took my older son to the credit union where we converted his youth accounts into adult ones) but still a perfectly low key and relaxed kind of day.

Especially when there are magazines to read.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Spending Less Than Ever

by Katy on November 9, 2014 · 6 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!

My family is most definitely a two income family. My husband works full-time in emergency services and I work very part-time (16 hours per week) as a labor and delivery nurse. I’ve been in the same job for over fifteen years, so my hourly wage is generous. We are normally able to cover all of our expenses, while having enough leftover to pay down debt and never feel like we’re holding back on the things we want and need. (The income from the blog pretty much covers the hosting fees and not much else.)

We’re able to have this financial wiggle room because we make multiple frugal choices on a daily basis. We keep the thermostat low, fix instead of replace, cook at home, follow The Compact, (buy only used) and pack school and work lunches from home. However, we’re also spending $220 per month on tutoring for our younger son, which is allowing him to return to a public school language program that he’s been away from for over four years. In other words, we scrimp on the little things in order to afford the big picture stuff.

“I’m sorry honey, we can’t afford your tutoring because we like to eat restaurant food.”

However, my job has been providing me with significantly less work than usual. It’s not unusual for birth rates to fluctuate, but my last three paychecks have been approximately $700 less than usual. I’m used to riding the ups and downs of my irregular income, but this is starting to hurt.

So, have we been starting to rely on credit cards, or are we cutting back on our son’s extra tutoring? No way. We’re using extreme frugality skills to float us through this low point. For example, my sister and her family were in town for Thanksgiving, and instead of hitting up the Goodwills, (our favorite activity) we hung out at home and feasted on leftovers. Instead of providing different fruit choices, I have a bowl of whichever fruit is on sale. (99¢ per pound organic Gala apples) I’m not buying deli meat for school lunches, and instead am making egg salad sandwiches and onigiri from leftover rice. My special me treat yesterday was a stop into a library across town (I was in the neighborhood to pick my son up) and checked out some audio books as well as the newest novel from one of my favorite Chick-lit authors.

I thought about stopping into Trader Joe’s and didn’t, as it is my Achilles heel of impulse puchase-ery. 

Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s? You bet!”

We will not need to dip into savings, nor will we suffer in any way. We’ll put a little less into debt reduction and cut back on most anything extra. And yeah, I’ll be using the $10 off $50 Safeway coupon that ran in today’s newspaper.

Having the ability to happily survive whether the purse strings are tight or loose is an important mindset in life. Hey, this might even inspire me to finally list some stuff on eBay. You never know. :-)

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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A few years ago my friend Sasha knitted me a beautiful scarf. The yarn is buttery soft, and the pretty blue colors brighten up Portland’s oppressive grey weather. It’s really long, which makes it super versatile. I’d been admiring the on-trend look of infinity scarves, so I hatched an idea to sew the scarf’s two ends together to create my own one. I figured if I didn’t end up liking it, I could always pick the stitches out.

So I walked over to our bin of outdoor accessories and dumped everything onto the ground. I looked at the gloves, scarves and hats piled into my entry and I had to laugh. Why? Because both of my sisters knit and crochet, which means that I’m the Imelda Marcos of hats. And the funny thing is that while I truly appreciate my sisters’ knit hats, I actually prefer a store-bought fleece hat that I picked up in 1992. (Look, I even added a cute felted flower to it!)

C’mon, you know the hat. I’m wearing it in every freaking winter photo that’s ever graced this blog.

Recognize it?

Bolt bus

A true dyed-in-the-wool minimalist would choose the single hat they wear and donate the excess. But I’ve never claimed to be a minimalist. I live in a big house and actually have the space to hold onto nine (yes nine!) extra hats. I do get rid of meaningless extra stuff, but these hats? My sisters created them for me, and they are knit with meaning.

Since I was in a semi-decluttering groove, I moved onto the closet, where I pulled out the coats and held them up one by one so my husband could make his own decisions.

Here’s how it went down:

  • “That’s the coat I wear when I’m coaching soccer in the rain.”
  • “That’s the coat I wear when I’m waiting in line for Timbers soccer games.”
  • “That’s the coat I wear for cold weather formal occasions.”
  • “That’s the coat I wear when I’m bicycling in the rain.”
  • “That’s the coat I wear for work.”
  • “That’s the coat I wear for watching soccer indoors.”

And on and on . . .

In the end, my husband let go of two coats and kept thirteen. Thirteen coats! I teased him by saying I was going to start a new TV show called “Coat Hoarders,” and that there would be very sad music that played over his segment.

But here’s the thing. He somehow wears all these coats, and we do have space for them.

Me? I have one rain jacket, one decent fleece coat and one scrappy one for when I’m working in the yard and likely to get smeared in mud. Three coats. And when it’s super cold out, I layer one fleece and the rain coat. And to balance my excessive haberdashery, my husband owns just three winter hats. One from when he was a teenager, and then two Timbers knit hats.

Sadly, I was unable to locate the scarf. I doubt I lost it, which means it’s probably hiding in plain sight. Maybe it’s just hidden in one of my husband’s coats.

Coat Hoarder, coming soon to your local TV station!

Just because I work to keep my house decluttered and free from the excesses of life doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to hold onto the nine hats that my sisters knit for me. There are no rules in simple living, and anyone who tells you otherwise is not living in the real world.

Do you keep an minimum of possessions in some areas, yet hold onto a maximum in other areas? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 36 comments }

Today I Am . . .

by Katy on November 5, 2014 · 32 comments

Today I am . . . 

  • Happy that my middle-aged near sightedness can be fixed with a $1 pair of Dollar Tree reading glasses.
  • Planning a Safeway grocery trip to take full advantage of their monthly $10-off-$50 coupon. I’ll also ask the neighbors to save their coupon for me.
  • Needing to clean one of my mother’s guest cottages today since I work tomorrow and the new tenants arrive on Friday.
  • Making sure I have a good library audiobook on my phone to listen to while I clean.
  • Pleased with my new Descoware (Le Creuset) trivet that my step mother gave me yesterday. I grew up with it, and since there were two of them, I’ll give the extra one to my older sister. I often have to move the hot tea kettle from the stove to use the good burners on my stove, (the back burners are too small to be useful) so I now have a cool vintage trivet to sit on the counter.
  • Needing to photograph a few items to sell on eBay and Craigslist. “Crap out of the house, money in!”
  • Amazed with how quickly my maple trees lose their leaves this time of year. I just raked the backyard a few days ago, yet the leaves are so thick that the lawn isn’t even visible!
  • Weirdly bummed that Amanda Valentine didn’t win Project Runway, but am moving on and rooting for Portland’s own Michelle Lesniak.
  • Layered up to stay warm. I did turn my heat on a few days ago, but it went right back off again after Portland temperatures came back up again.
  • Enjoying the mental challenge of coming up with great holiday gift ideas while spending almost nothing.
  • Thinking about asking my neighbors if I can have the uncarved pumpkins that sit on their porch. (Gotta freeze enough puree to get us through to next Halloween!)

Now your turn. What are you doing today?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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