Five Frugal Things

by Katy on March 13, 2017 · 56 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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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.”

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One Frugal Mess

by Katy on March 8, 2017 · 42 comments

You know what’s frugal? Cooking dry black beans in your pressure cooker. However, sometimes frugal plans go sideways.

Literally.

As in a sideways spray of liquid beans that coats your kitchen.

Fuuuu . . . . 

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 7, 2017 · 86 comments

  1. I garbage picked a rug, which prompted me to schlep my trusty Craigslist Bissell rug shampooer from the basement. It’s the Ikea Gatten rug, which originally sold for $500 as it’s hand knotted and 100% wool. The now perfect looking rug will live in my older son’s room to replace a scrappy piece of carpet remnant that I put in as a temporary solution 19 years ago! The carpet remnant? I’ll list it in my Buy Nothing Group.
  2. I brought home a large amount of leftover food from one of my mother’s guest cottages. This included an unopened pound of frozen shrimp, carrots, bok choy, red potatoes, eggs, hummus, a jar of pasta sauce and a few other items. I’ll put together a large shrimp stir-fry for tonight’s dinner!
  3. My husband and I picked up our younger son from college to attend the Portland Timbers’ season opening soccer game. He stayed home for two nights and then I drove him the 2-1/2 hours back to school. Although all this driving is far from frugal, we saved money by twice eating dinner in his dorm’s dining hall. He always has extra points as he misses some breakfasts, so we might as well enjoy some of the food we’re already paying for.
  4. I renewed all my library books, I wore a 100% thrifted outfit for a professional appearance, I brought dribs and drabs of leftovers as a work lunch and I continue to not buy anything.
  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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The Lesson of The $300 Sunglasses

by Katy on March 5, 2017 · 30 comments

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

I may live my life avoiding the mall as if my life depended on it, but my kids are teenagers and make their own choices. Just yesterday, my 15-year-old son and a friend spent a couple hours after school shopping for a birthday gift and enjoying all that our nearby mall has to offer. I picked them up afterwards, (I’m not a fan of nighttime mass transit for my kids) and enjoyed listening to their chatter in the backseat of the car.

“Did you see that $300 pair of sunglasses?”

“No. Were they made from gold?”

“They actually looked really normal.”

At this point I had to interject.

“I like to find sunglasses at Goodwill, that way I don’t freak out if they get lost or scratched up.”

I started to think about how because my thrifted sunglasses are so cheap, that I end up treating them, well . . . less than respectfully. They slosh around in my purse, jostling up against my keys, wallet and assorted detritus, garnering about as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield at a 1970’s feminist convention. And really, why should I care? They’re cheap, cheap, cheap!

But this is not good. Essentially, I am treating my belongings poorly because I know they are easily replaceable and cost less than a drive-thru burger. If I bought the $300 sunglasses, you know I would store them in a sunglasses case, making sure to clean them only with a microfiber cloth with much admiring of myself in the rear view mirror. In  others words, not the Rodney Dangerfield treatment.

The lesson here? I should continue to buy my sunglasses at Goodwill, but treat them as if I didn’t. And really, I should treat all my Stuff in this manner. $15 antique desk? Still need to use a coaster. Bargain of a fixer-upper house? Should still occasionally clean it.

Have you found that you treat your cheap purchases worse than if you’d spent a ton of money? 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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I’ve Met My Match

by Katy on March 3, 2017 · 67 comments

My friend Lise and I met up to socialize and walk our errands yesterday. The thing that you need to know about Lise, is that she can out-frugal/out eco-living me any day of the week. (This is good though, as I’m always up for new ideas and inspiration.)

First stop was to Fred Meyer where she returned a couple of paint sample chips and paint decor pamphlets. You know, the kind you normally throw into the recycling? Lise returned them so there was be no waste. Round one to Lise.

The second stop was to the textile recycling box across the street, when I dropped off an unmendable queen size sheet and a pair of shredded pajama pants. Round two to me.

The two of us then walked over to the credit union where Lise deposited a check from one of her side-gigs. I would normally have swept my hand under the coin counting machine, but there was a man using it, and I felt it would have been considered “rude” to elbow him aside.  Round three to Lise.

We then meandered home, all the while perusing various free boxes and recycling bins for goodies. I brought home a mop handle, (as these have universal threading and are handy to have on hand) as well as a pretty lidded jar that I’ll take over to the terrarium shop in the neighborhood. I also found a penny. We did pass by an Ikea rug that someone had put out in front of their house, but left it mostly uninvestigated, as A) we were walking, and B) we were walking. (Seriously, I’m committed to saving things from the landfill, but don’t exactly savor carrying a large wet rug through the city streets.) I’m going to call this round four, and possibly five and six to me.

Edit: I went back this morning and brought the rug home, which is now drying on the porch after I gave it a thorough shampooing.

People talk both about keeping up with the Joneses, as well as how to maintain a social life while adhering to a budget, and to this I say find like-minded friends. Find those people in your circle whose idea of fun is to go for a walk together, with or without errands. Find people who don’t mock your uber-frugal ways or make you feel bad when you repeatedly decline invitations for expensive evenings out. You might even discover that your spendy friends can be drawn in by your frugal ways.

Just keep your hands off Lise, she’s mine.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Turbotax Deluxe Giveaway!

by Katy on March 1, 2017 · 170 comments

This giveaway has ended, congratulations to Karen and Susan whose names were randomly chosen to win. Thank you to everyone who took the time to enter.

Katy

turbotax

I’m very particular about which companies I promote on the blog. I get daily offers from companies that want to partner with The Non-Consumer Advocate, and I turn down 99.99% of them. Because seriously, what kind of hypocrite would I be to write a blog about not buying new and unnecessary stuff and then turn around to stamp my name on endless consumer goods?

But I always feel good about lending my name to Intuit’s TurboTax. My husband and I use them to prepare our taxes, and as much as I would love to not spend money on taxes, I do love schools, libraries, safe drinking water, paved roads, disaster relief, public transportation, and properly maintained infrastructure. (You know, the good things that our tax dollars pay for.)

And that’s why I reached out to TurboTax to set up a giveaway. We used to hire an expensive accountant to do our taxes. This was leftover from when my husband ran his own commercial photo studio and needed to depreciate his equipment, and the job was over his head. But I finally convinced him to at least try doing our own taxes. We haven’t looked back. Our taxes are complicated by my extra income (and expenses) from cleaning my mother’s guest cottages and running a certain little blog. But that’s made easy with TurboTax, which gently walks us through the finicky stuff.

Today I have two online deluxe versions to give away, which include both the federal and state filing. (I know it says “State additional,” but I’ve been assured that the state is included.)

To enter to win, all you have to do is write your name in the comments section of the blog. I will randomly choose the winners on Sunday, March 5th at 9 P.M. PST. Winners will be provided with product codes.

Good luck, and happy taxing! May your tax refunds be large and plentiful!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Disclosure: I was provided with a Turbotax Deluxe for review in conjunction with this blog post. This did not influence my opinion.

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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on February 28, 2017 · 111 comments

  1. I stopped at Goodwill to drop off my husband’s slightly faded uniform pants that he was required to replace. They still have a ton of life left in them, so hopefully someone with a less picky employer will get some use out of them. I picked up a new looking twin sheet set that was marked $7.99, but was actually half-off. Perfect purchase as all of our twin sheets are mysteriously scrappy at the moment. Add in that I’m still plugging away on a gift card from my birthday, and the $4 was definitely in my budget.
  2. I browned a single pound of Trader Joe’s ground beef for both marinara sauce and a bean/onion/pepper mixture for burritos. My husband and I now have the anchor for a couple different meals for this week. Needless to say, the beans were Dollar Tree pintos that I cooked in my crock pot.
  3. I listened to the entirety of the Hamilton soundtrack through the free Hoopla app while running errands and puttering around the house today. Luckily I was home alone by the time Alexander Hamilton’s son died in a duel, as that’s my time to ugly cry.
  4. I signed up for the next month of hospital shifts, which meant I was poised in front of my computer at exactly 5 P.M. I spaced out this scheduled task last month and had to scramble to get enough work.
  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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A Blur of Non-Consumer Productivity

by Katy on February 27, 2017 · 55 comments

The last week-and-a-half have been a blur for me. Not due to anything exciting like winning an Oscar for best picture and then immediately losing it, but because I’ve had the worst cold of the millennium. Coughing, wheezing, body aches and a general malaise that didn’t allow for any focused productive work.

And if you know me, you know that I pride myself on being a bit of a productivity junky. I write out long daily to-do lists, and although I rarely cross off every single thing, it’s still an impressive accomplishment by the end of the day. So it’s been driving me batty to lay about doing nothing and watching endless TV. (Okay, the first day was fun, I admit it.)

However, even though I’m not back to full power, I was finally able to get a few things done both yesterday and today.

  • I transplanted an indoor plant into a big glazed flowerpot that’s much bigger and more of a bold decor piece. Didn’t spend a penny on any part of this project, which is my favorite.
  • I listed an always-in-the-way vintage wheelbarrow in my Buy Nothing Group. (I used to plant lettuce in it.) It’s been probably four years since I’ve been able to muster even an ounce of enthusiasm for gardening, so it was a wonderful thing to send it off to a new home.
  • I cut open an ancient flat bed pillow to harvest the batting for a leather armchair that needed some extra stuffing. The seat cushion unzipped in the back, so this project was super easy and also cost zero-point-zero dollars. This hack worked perfectly, and the chair feels great again.
  • I filled not one but two huge yard debris cans with cut up branches from our tree which suffered badly during the last wind storm. Although it barely made a dent in the huge branch pile that currently fills my backyard patio, I’ll only finish this task like eating an elephant. One bite at a time.
  • I finished writing a Clark Howard article that I’ve repeatedly started and abandoned. Hard to write anything coherent when your head is swirling and swimming.

Do you consider yourself a “productivity junkie” like I do? Please share your thoughts and recent accomplishments in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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