I’ve had an anxiety dream on repeat ever since we bought our overwhelmingly difficult fixer-upper house in 1996. In this dream my husband and I buy a falling down house and put all of our time, money and energy into the house only to give up and sell it at a loss. The subsequent buyers do a couple of tiny and inexpensive projects and are able to bring it to a magazine-worthy state. In short, we do 99.99% of the work, yet don’t get to enjoy any of the results from our backbreaking labor. My husband and I are then heartbroken and filled with regret.

It’s been a few years since I’ve had this dream, and had kind of forgotten about it.

Until last night.

But my running dream took an unexpected turn to the left.

Last night’s dream featured my husband and myself visiting the new owners of the house only to discover that yes, some projects looked impressive from the outside, but the interior stairs were falling apart, the living room had unfinished splintery floors and the fancy painted ceiling was collapsing. My husband and I left the house whispering to each other about how smart we were to have sold the house when we did, and how happy we were to be in our current home.

You don’t have to be Freud to make the connection that I just got home from visiting my sister for two weeks, and that I’m very happy with the life my husband and teenage sons have crafted in our 1914 fixer-upper.

Yes, almost everything we own is either thrifted or hauled home from someone else’s castoff pile, and there are more than a few embarrassingly unfinished projects. But those things are just that. Things . . .

Our fixer-upper used to feel like a burden and cause me a lot of anxiety. Not only did I regret taking on an endlessly expensive project, but it put a lot of pressure on my husband to spend all his spare time being a contractor, which he isn’t. Stressful for him and guilt inducing for me. Oh, joy!

But our project heavy house holds countless wonderful family memories, all surrounded by unfinished wood trim, a never-built second bathroom and a hideous basement. We raised our sons in this house, yet I highly doubt that they’ve ever been bothered by the bare wood trim or the mostly tiled bathroom. What they have noticed is the love and attention they’ve received through the years. Home cooked meals in the dining room, the four of us snuggled up watching library movies on our got-it-for-free television and endless Lego sessions on the living room floor.

A magazine worthy house would be great, but it just can’t be my main priority. Not when there are meals to be enjoyed and Lego castles to construct.

Our house may be incomplete, but our home has everything it needs. Thanks Freud for once again pointing out the obvious.

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 July 20, 2015 · 37 comments

City Island

  1. Yesterday’s plans to visit a friend in Queens and grab delicious Indian food went kaput when she forgot about our plans and left town. The weather was hot and humid, which threw a haze over our normally keen decision making skills, so we ended up deciding to see a movie instead of some fabulous and envy-inducing NYC adventure. Instead we drove north of the city to New Rochelle, where we parked easily (and for free) and walked in the air conditioned bliss that is a summertime movie theater. I won’t tell you the movie we saw for fear that you will judge my parenting, as the movie was surprisingly sexually graphic. Oops. . . (Okay, okay . . . it was Trainwreck which was the height of hilarity, but probably not exactly what my 17-year-old son wanted to watch with his mother.) We didn’t use Fandango or buy snacks, and our matinee tickets only set us back ten bucks apiece.
  2. I put on my brave-woman pants and figured out how to get to Laguardia airport by subway and bus instead of opening a financial vein for a cab. $2.75 apiece instead of $40 plus tip? You betcha! I was nervous that we’d mess something up along the way, but the process was smooth sailing. (My sister thanked my for “beta testing” the route as she’d never tried getting to Laguardia this way.)
  3. I’ve found 22¢ on the ground at the airport so far.
  4. My son and I packed fresh bagels with lox spread for the trip so we wouldn’t be tempted to buy the overpriced food on our flights. I should have brought a refillable bottle, but we’ll just use the water fountains before the flight and the free non-alcoholic beverages once we board.
  5. I didn’t buy one souvenir during my two-week trip to NYC. Since I brought gifts, I’m actually going home lighter than when I arrived. Decluttering by way of hostess gifting for the win!

A huge thank you to my sister and her family for hosting us in their lovely Bronx City Island home. Right on the Long Island Sound, yet right outside the city. A perfect combination!

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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NYC Blog Reader Meetup is Today!

by Katy on July 17, 2015 · 5 comments

bethesdafountain

Just a quick reminder that the NYC Non-Consumer Advocate blog reader meetup is today at 6 P.M. at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park!

I’m really looking forward to meeting you!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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A Bit of Daily Life in NYC

by Katy on July 17, 2015 · 18 comments

Katz's Deli

Sorry to have left the blog dormant the past two days. I try not to let that happen too often, but daily life gets in the way and there’s simply no way I’m going to sit down at the computer to blog when I see my sister working to put a meal on the table and then work to get it cleaned up afterwards.

Can’t be that type of houseguest.

Here’s what you’ve missed:

  • I used my friend Jeff’s corporate pass to attend The Whitney Museum with my old pal Pam.
  • I found $25 on the ground yesterday. I also found two pennies and a quarter as the day went on.
  • Pam and I then walked down to Avenue C in the East Village to eat at a wonderful (and frugal) Puerto Rican restaurant.
  • My 17-year-old-son and his 10-year-old cousin have been going to the beach every day to catch hermit crabs, which they then incorporate into elaborate sunken sand castles.
  • My sister and I have been readying for tomorrow’s garage sale, although I admit that I haven’t been as helpful as I could be. (Sleeping on an inflatable mattress is exactly as restful as one would think.)

Today we hit up The Tenement Museum, where we’ll do a “Hard Times” tour which includes an extra discussion. (My idea of hot times in the city!)

Thanks for your patience with my spotty blogging schedule. As I tell my kids, “I’m doing my best, but sometimes my best is less than perfect.”

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 July 14, 2015 · 32 comments

bethesdafountain

Today I am . . . 

  • Arranging a get together with my friend Pam for Thursday.
  • Very appreciative that my friend Jeff from college is lending us his Whitney Museum workplace passes.
  • Excited to walk the Highline, poke through the Whitney and then have lunch with my friend Pam!
  • Starting to plan out my sister’s garage sale this Saturday at her house on City Island.
  • Pleased that I’ve been able to remotely run my Craigslist resell bidness from afar. So far I’ve sold eight women’s soccer tickets, one curb-picked duvet cover and a horrifically scratchy kilim throw pillow that always gave me the heebie-jeebbies. Not too shabby to bring in $105 of bonus cash while vacationing 3,000 miles away! (I simply tell my husband to put particular items on our covered porch, and then buyers put money in our locked mailbox.)
  • Mailing out the too-narrow Birkenstocks that I bought on eBay. Katy so sad . . .

Making a decision about the when and where of the Non-Consumer Advocate reader meetup. You can bring food or not. Please don’t feel you need to make or bring anything special whatsoever.

Where: Bethesda Fountain in Central Park

When: Friday, July 17 at 6 P.M.

Why: Stare at me. Meet fellow NYC non-consumers!

  • Trying to get teenagers out of bed so we can go to The Bronx Zoo this afternoon.
  • Driving to Trader Joe’s in Larchmont to replace the large bag of groceries that my sister left behind the other day. (My sister called ahead and prearranged everything.)
  • 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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{ 32 comments }

Five Frugal Things

by Katy on July 13, 2015 · 34 comments

Yankee Stadium

  1. My son and I went to a New York City Football Club (NYCFC) soccer game today at Yankee Stadium. We brought our own reusable water bottle which we filled repeatedly at their water fountain. I was very proud that I’d remembered to do this, since bottled water was being sold for $5 a pop!
  2. We took public transportation all day, which included five subways and two buses. I was able to use my brother-in-law’s unlimited fare MetroCard, while my son used a card I’d loaded with $20.
  3. We bought hot greasy slices of pizza for dinner, which added up to a budget-friendly $12.50.
  4. Instead of buying expensive movie theater candy or even cheap drug store candy for yesterday’s movie, I simply bought no candy.
  5. In exchange for being such a lengthy houseguest, I’m working to make myself a useful human. Laundry, dishes and general cleaning are well within my skill set, and certainly help with a household of six people. Staying in NYC for two weeks would be insanely expensive, so I really appreciate my sister’s hospitality. (We joke that I’m the homely au pair chosen by the jealous wife.)

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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Cheap, Cheap, Cheap, Expensive

by Katy on July 11, 2015 · 19 comments

Brooklyn Museum

When traveling, it’s important to keep a close eye on expenses. Admission prices, meals and transportation can add up faster than an uptown subway train.

Luckily, I am above average when it comes to keeping an eye on my money. But even I, The Non-Consumer Advocate can slip up now and then. Take today as an example.

Our plan had been to take the kids to the Brooklyn Art Museum for the Rise of Sneaker Culture exhibit. Traveling all the way from City Island is a bit of a schlep, so we made sure to feed everyone before leaving home.

Or so we thought.

My son started asking at 2 P.M. if we were going to grab food before the museum, and then casually mentioned that all he’d eaten were two peaches. I opened my trusty Yelp app to locate some cheap pizza and marched my group over a block-and-a-half to a restaurant that appeared long shuttered. I was up for hunting down another cheap slice, but crankiness was rising so we walked over to a Caribbean takeout window and ordered jerk chicken, rice and beans and a curried chicken patty. Not too expensive at $8, but I thought we’d already eaten.

The museum itself was a “suggested donation” admission, so that helped to keep things under control.

My nephew really, really wanted for everyone to see the Pixar movie Inside Out together, so we met up at a theater on The Upper East Side. I rarely splurge on a first run movie, and I certainly never see them in Manhattan, so the $14 price tag hit me hard. The movie was pretty good, although I could have taken it or left it. (I would have been happy to wait to rent it from my local Redbox.)

We did end up with a few minutes before the movie to grab slices of pizza, which was budget-worthy at $5 for the two of us.

Tomorrow my son and I will go to a New York City Football Club soccer game at Yankee Stadium, which will set us back $30 per ticket, although this was a very deliberate and thought out expense. My son, as you know, is soccer obsessed. So this match will be a highlight of his trip.

Of course we’re spending zero dollars on souvenirs or inflated touristy spending opportunities. So no Broadway plays, no horse drawn carriage rides and certainly no foam Statue of Liberty crowns.

The key to frugal travel, just like the key to regular frugal living is to keep big expenses in check, and to save splurges for the things that really matter. Something memorable with bang for the buck. Soccer game, yes. Movie, no.

Be cheap with what doesn’t matter so your money is available for the things that do.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Life in New York City is nothing but glamor and celebrities. Or . . . helping my sister with her daily routine and squeezing in a few touristy moments. Like how she needed to take her elderly dog to the veterinarian’s office, which just happened to be a few blocks from Central Park.

Central Park

We overheard a tour guide saying that this fountain is in the exact geographic center of Manhattan. It might be true, it might not. Either way we took a photo with Maggie the dog.

photo 3

This is a stoop to an otherwise unmemorable store that caught my eye. Clever use of old and otherwise useless keys.

Key stoop

While we were gone, my ten-year-old niece decided to surprise us with a pancake lunch. Apparently she quadrupled the recipe!

Pancakes

I do love this old Keith Haring “Crack is Wack” mural along the Harlem River Drive.

Keith Haring

Late afternoon called for a sail on the Long Island Sound in my brother-in-law’s sailboat. It was a first for my 17-year-old son, and he took to it like a pro.

Sailing

I do enjoy how all the manhole covers are personalized for my visit. (WSNY = Wolk-Stanley New York.) That’s very welcoming. Thank you, New York!

Wolk-Stanley New York

New York City has a reputation for being unbearably expensive, but people watching and strolling through Central Park cost nothing whatsoever. (I walked past Arianna Huffington, and considered introducing myself since I do blog for her, but she was pretty far away by the time I worked up my nerve.)

And the cost for today’s fancy touristy activities? Being willing to take a freaked out dog to the vet for a blood draw.

Poor old Maggie . . .

I would like to arrange for a Non-Consumer Advocate blog reader meetup while I’m in NYC. But I think it would work best if there was some type of activity involved. (Can’t just have us all standing around akwardly with nothing to do!) I’m kind of stumped, but do want to make this happen. Maybe one of the suggested donation museums? (The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art or Museum of Natural History?) or perhaps something completely different? I’m completely up for suggestions.

Also, would it be better to do it during the day or evening, weekday or weekend?

Please weigh in with your ideas and opinions. I want to hear if this is something you’d be interested in.

Thanks!

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 July 9, 2015 · 17 comments

  1. My NYC vacation has been mostly low key so far, with today’s highlight’s including taking my sister’s puppy to The Northshore Animal League on Long Island, taking my nephew to his track practice and walking the dogs around City Island. Luckily, the company is exceptional and there are next to no shopping temptations. (I did sneak in a walk around Washington Heights featuring a tasty falafel and a café con leche with “solo un poquito de azucar.”
  2. I’ve found 44¢ on the ground so far on my trip, which will be added to my found change challenge jar.
  3. Our plans for tomorrow include cheering for the U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer team at their ticker tape parade, taking my sister’s other dog to the vet and sailing on the Long Island Sound in my brother-in-law’s boat.
  4. We did a big grocery shopping trip to Trader Joe’s instead of eating out.
  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet. You know . . . because of New York City’s sales tax.

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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Win One of Two Books From Lark!

by Katy on July 8, 2015 · 118 comments

Update: This giveaway has ended. Congratulations to Marie and Patricia, and thank you to everyone who took the time to enter.

Ivan and books

Today is a very exciting day, because you have the opportunity to win one of two great crafting books from Lark Books!

The first is The Big Book of Mod-Podge: Decoupage Made Easy from Plaid Enterprises. Now you already know that I love Mod-Podge, and have used it for various projects, like this drawer organizer:

Drawer-Organizer

And this Manga chair:

Manga chair

The second book is Craft Camp: Over 40 Fun Projects for Kids. I brought this book with me to NYC, and my ten-year-old niece and I are already poring through the book to choose some fun activities to do while I’m here.

I will randomly choose one winner for each of the books. To enter to win, write your name in the comments section below.

Good luck!

I will randomly choose the winners Friday, July 10th at 9 P.M. EST.

P.S. Puppy not included.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 118 comments }