october grocery challenge

I had hoped to do more blog posts about the October Grocery Challenge, but instead I only wrote two. But just because I wasn’t writing about it, didn’t mean that I wasn’t working on it. And to be completely honest, one of the reasons who I didn’t write too much about it was because my husband likes to do big grocery trips on days that I work, which include budget-busting items like fancy desserts and premiums meats.

So I was kind of scared to sit down and add everything up. My written goal was to stay under $450, my secret goal was to stay under $400 and I just knew in my heart that I would fail to meet either goal.

Sigh . . .

So I’m very happy to announce that my family only spent $408.56 on groceries for the month of October!

I guess all my scrimping and saving on groceries kind of balanced out my husband’s proclivities for the finer things in life. (At this point I would totally understand if you’re picturing him wearing a waistcoat and monocle.)

However . . . we did spent $93.31 eating out during the month. But this includes the restaurant and coffee shop on my son’s 19th birthday. This also includes taking my son out for a one-on-one lunch and me buying one work lunch and a large amount of freshly baked cafeteria cookies to share with my co-workers. And umm . . . I drove through Burgerville to use up some Chinook Book coupons from my neighbor and step-mother that were about to expire.

I did not include the $66.72 that I spent on apples, as I use the applesauce for gift giving. Yes, we eat it as well, but I just couldn’t stand to include it in the budget. (Yeah, this is manipulating the numbers. So sue me!)

One thing I didn’t do was to hold back on buying good quality food at any point during the challenge. I did put my slow cooker to work for a number of bean based meals, but those were always paired with fresh baked bread, biscuits or cornbread. If anything, the food was better than ever since as almost everything was home cooked.

And compared to the $707.70 that we spent on food in September, it’s pretty damned amazing! Plus we went to the grocery store 18 times instead of 36 times! (Keep in mind I almost always batch walking to both Fred Meyer and New Seasons in a single trip as they’re just two blocks apart.)

Did you participate in The October Grocery Challenge? Or maybe you just kept a closer eye on your food budget? 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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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on November 3, 2014 · 36 comments

roasted pumpkin

  1. My husband and I spent at least four hours yesterday spreading our enormous pile of free wood chip mulch around the yard. We assumed that we’d have to Craigslist a good portion of our bounty, but both of our next-door-neighbors were happy to accept mulch for their yards. Not only does our whole block now look better, but one neighbor gave my husband a brand new Pendleton Wool men’s shirt that didn’t fit him. My husband gets itchy from wool, so we’ll be able to use it for a family member’s Christmas gift.
  2. I’ve been putting a focused effort into lowering my family’s grocery bills, and one category which stumped me was the deli meat for my husband’s work lunches. And since the sliced meat was setting us back $11 per pound, it was only for him. “Did you eat up all that sliced meat? Don’t you know that’s just for dad?!” Anyway, now that I’m buying huge sliceable chunks of already roasted pork loin for $3.99/lb at The Grocery Outlet, other members of the family are finally allowed to make themselves a sandwich or two. (And since I use $3-off-$25 coupons, it’s even cheaper!)
  3. I took both of my sons’ Halloween jack-o-lanterns and roasted them up for pumpkin puree. I’ll freeze it in two-cup portions, and I’m guessing there’s a least twenty cups of pumpkiny-goodness from something most people just throw away.  My family will be enjoying pumpkin pies, pumpkin scones, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin soup, pumpkin egg salad salad, pumpkin bread . . .
  4. Even though I went to the opening of the shiniest new Portland Goodwill Outlet, I didn’t buy anything. I already have most everything I need, and nothing there caught my eye either for gift giving or resale. The best bargain is the thing not purchased.
  5. I went to my sister’s 31st birthday party last night which was being held at her friend’s house. (A house which features an backyard cob pizza oven!) I was asked to bring a few pizza toppings, and was able to use what I had on hand and brought a bag of nice frozen salami slices I had in the freezer and a can of pineapple chunks from the cupboard.

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

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Happy Halloween!

by Katy on October 31, 2014 · 12 comments

Happy Halloween from team Non-Consumer Advocate!

Halloween Illustration

Illustration by the talented Jessica Wolk-Stanley.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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I’ve been having a very frugal month. From keeping a close eye on our food budget to simply not buying anything unnecessary, October has been very good to me.

After investing in a hundred pounds of local apples, the clock started ticking for me to process them before the rot kicked in. I spent an afternoon making applesauce, but had to stop when I ran out of jars. Because I participate in The Compact and buy nothing new, I decided to try my luck at area Goodwills before giving up and buying new. I already knew that some Goodwills charge as much as $1.99 per jar, but I remembered that one particular Goodwill sells them for 29¢ apiece. (Plus they’re not individually priced, so they’re zero waste!)

Let’s just say that I succeeded in my quest for cheap canning jars:

Canning jars

And not to brag too much, but I also scored this still shrink-wrapped box of pint-and-a-half jars, which included the lids and rims. Not too shabby for $4.99. (I didn’t end up needing the jars, but I will use them for bulk storage as they take better advantage of vertical space.

New canning jars

I’m now all done processing my apples. I always worry that I’m going to bite off more than I can chew and end up creating waste. But I’ll save that scenario for another day, as I was miraculously able to can 35+ jars of applesauce. (I did save some Granny Smiths for pie baking.)

Applesauce

When I got home from Goodwill, I saw that a neighbor was having a tree chipped. (We had a big wind storm on Saturday, so our local arborists have been busy, busy, busy!) I walked over and asked if they’d dump the mulch in my driveway.

Mulch

I’ll use the mulch to freshen up the walkway along the side of our house, as well as under the hydrangeas and any other plant that sits still. And if there’s any left over, I’ll put a free ad on Craigslist. I just love how perfect this scenario is. My mulch didn’t have to be created hundreds of miles away, and by taking it, I save the arborists from having to haul and pay for dumping fees. Win-win-win!

I woke up very early to attend the opening of the brand new Goodwill Outlet across town this morning. (Seriously folks, I was there at 6:30-in-the -freaking A.M.!) Although I didn’t personally do the 7 A.M. ceremonial cutting of the ribbon, I still got to sneak in before the hundreds of people who had been waiting in line for hours. (Don’t get too upset with my unethical line-hopping, as I didn’t actually buy anything. Plus, I was an invited member of the press.)

By 7:15, it was business as usual, with the serious pickers separating the wheat from the chaff.

Goodwill Outlet

I kept to the perimeter and let the professionals do their jobs.

By comparison, I am a rank amateur. I loved just taking it all in, and took many opportunities to talk to the customers and photograph some of the quirkier items:

Jazz hands

I like to call this book, “Jazz Hands: The Body in Action.”

I’ll write up a full post soon enough, but for now you’ll just have to imagine the amazingness.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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It’s time for another Non-Consumer Mish-Mash, where I write a little bit about this and a little bit about that.

Minty Fresh With The Non-Consumer Advocate

I’ve given a lot of interviews through the years, although it’s been a few months since the last one. So when Mint.com approached me for a Q&A this summer, and I was happy to oblige. It took me longer than I thought to be able to sit down and answer their questions, which led to much soul searching and tearing out of hair. (Seriously, it was one of those things that would occur to me in the middle of the night or when I was out and about.)

Anyway, here’s the link to the interview, which features such delightful quotes as:

“My husband thought I was insane to suggest such an extreme measure, but he’d already witnessed many years of my wacky frugal measures, so he just shrugged his shoulders and came along for the ride.”

Click HERE to read the entire interview.

 

Moochy-Queen or Hipster Freegan? You Make The Call!

I’ve written repeatedly about how I help my mother out by cleaning her guest cottages between tenants. Sometimes it only takes a few hours, other times it’s much, much more. So I always cringe to see what kind of shape the house has been left. (Tenants do pay a cleaning fee, which is halfway refunded if the house is left clean. This has helped people to leave the houses a whole lot better!)

However, I do look forward to the food and various goodies that people leave behind. Because the houses each have a full kitchen, there can be a fair amount left behind.

Just yesterday I cleaned one of the houses and brought home:

  • One quart of lovely organic whole milk, packaged in a glass jar that I will return for the deposit.
  • Two prepackaged ice cream cones.
  • One box of brown sugar.
  • One bag of Bob’s Red Mill instant oatmeal.
  • Two containers of New Seasons’ deli salads.
  • One large container of yogurt.
  • One small container of yogurt.
  • One jar of organic honey.

I gave the ice cream cones to my sons, incorporated the deli salads into some quinoa, used two cups of the milk to make a pan of cornbread and enjoyed the small yogurt myself. My son ate a bowl of oatmeal before going to school this morning and the remainder sits in the refrigerator.

I just love free food!

 

You Can’t Choose What You Like To Do

The Happiness Project’s Gretchen Rubin has a life rule about how “You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do,”  which I find to be wonderfully insightful! There are a lot of things I know I should be doing, but in my heart I know that I absolutely hate to do.

Examples include:

  • Volunteering in the schools. I do this occasionally, but I really hate it. I did a lot of volunteering when my sons were younger, but I never really enjoyed it. Luckily, there are other parents who thrive on it, so I just let it be their thing.
  • Gardening. I really don’t enjoy crouching and kneeling in the dirt, so I put perennials in the ground and call it a day. Or years, really. It’s been a long time since I’ve changed my garden up.
  • Dogs. Although I grew up with a dog who I loved dearly, it somehow didn’t follow me into adulthood. I can’t stand it when dogs jump up on me, and getting my crotch sniffed is low on my bucket list.
  • Social occasions with groups of women. My coworkers and fellow mothers go out for drinks pretty frequently, but the thought of it has never appealed to me. My perfect evening is spent cozied up at home in flannel jammies. I’m not a drinker and the thought of having to dress up and wear makeup is 100% unappealing to me. It’s great for women who find value with this kind of community building, but for me, it would be torture.

There are so many things that I enjoy spending my time on, but others that make me want to run screaming. And Rubin’s rule has helped me realize that it’s okay to not enjoy what others absolutely love.

Thanks, Gretchen! I’m looking forward to reading Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits of our Everyday Lives!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Is There Greed in Buying For Resale?

by Katy on October 28, 2014 · 75 comments

The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook Group is a great resource for readers who want more of an interactive experience. Dozens of members post on a day basis, varying from non-consumer related links to questions to inspirational quotes. I try to keep a close eye on the group, but for the most part it’s an extremely positive and safe place for its almost 6000 members. (And since it’s a closed group, people often post very personal things.)

However, on days that I work, (when I’m gone from the house from 6:15 A.M. – 8:30 P.M.) the group has to function without a moderator, which is generally no big deal as we’re all adults.

But yesterday one member posted this:

“I have seen several posts on this group as of late about buying an item for a low price just to sell it for more. What gives? I would think being a NCA you would want other people to find a good deal or sell something at a good price. Not sure my thoughts follow the greedy mentally I have seen in the last several posts that have graced my newsfeed.”

By the time I came home from work, there were 172 replies, and the original poster had left the group in an angry huff.

I wasn’t part of the conversation, but many were. Mostly from group members who questioned why it was considered “greedy” to supplement one’s income by keeping an eye out for underpriced thrift store items to sell. I do it, as has anyone who ever operated an antique store or resale shop.

Buy low, sell high. It’s commerce.

I do it to supplement my family’s income so that my sons can have a sliver of a chance of graduating from college without a mountain of debt. And yes, I do buy from thrift stores. I also buy pretty much everything else my family owns from thrift stores. Our furniture, clothing, bedding, most gifts and our household items. It’s all from thrift stores.

I think the original poster’s issue is that she sees thrift stores solely as a resource for the poverty stricken; and that those who are able to pay their bills have no right to shop there, as each purchase of an item by a financially comfortable person then deprives someone in need.

Has she seen the excess of stuff in thrift stores?! Umm . . . there’s enough for everyone!

Also, most thrift stores exist to raise money for their individual causes. Whether it’s for animal shelters, barriers to employment, homeless outreach or teen challenges, thrift stores want anyone and everyone to spend their money in their facilities.

When I buy an item at Goodwill for the sole purpose of cleaning it up for resale, I’m supporting that particular cause just as much as anyone else. I’m supporting my own goal of working part time while my kids are at home, and I’m sourcing cool stuff for buyers who have neither time nor interest to browse through their area thrift stores. I take the time to research my finds, clean and/or repair them, photograph and then list them for sale.

It’s not greedy.

No one buys anything from me who isn’t looking for that exact item. They’re happy to have found the perfect (and freshly shampooed) rug for their daughter’s room or the exact fireplace andirons that their grandmother had. (True examples.)

Being a non-consumer doesn’t mean that I’m not working to boost my income. And I give credit to anyone who puts in the time and work to do the same.

Do you feel it’s unethical to shop thrift stores with an eye for resale? Please share your respectful responses in the comments section below.

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 October 26, 2014 · 25 comments

Teenage apple boy

  1. I started processing the hundred pounds of apples I bought last week. I borrowed my father’s ancient Squeezo Strainer and made 18 quarts of applesauce. I made use of what I already owned, which meant consolidating a few jars, as well as moving storage for a few items from jars to Ziploc bags. I still have an enormous number of apples on hand, but I need to scrounge up more jars before I start back up again.
  2. I’d been keeping an eye out for a new thrift store blanket for the bed in the spare bedroom, but instead decided to mend it. Although I didn’t have the exact right color of thread for the repair, I used a similar shade, and it’s almost invisible.
  3. Tonight’s dinner was The Pioneer Woman’s Chicken Pot Pie. I had a Ziploc bag of leftover pie dough in the freezer, which when rolled very thin was enough for the recipe. The dough was a bit tough as it had been handled too much, but since the dinner was for us and not the Queen of England, there were no complaints. The recipe also called for a quarter-cup of white wine, which I didn’t have on hand. However, I did have an open bottle of red which gave the pie a lovely flavor without requiring me to buy an extra bottle of wine. Also, the recipe called for celery, and I bought two ribs instead of an entire bunch. (Less waste and very cheap this way!)
  4. We had a very low key weekend, and didn’t drive anywhere except for a single soccer game. I did make sure to batch a few errands since we were out and about. (Library, gas station, my father’s house.) I walked to the grocery store, but I only bought the items that were on my list. (Bananas, milk, celery, whipping cream, oatmeal.) There’s nothing cheaper than sleeping in and puttering around the house!
  5. My husband packs his own lunch for work, but has no access to a microwave or refrigeration. He likes to have nice cold cuts for sandwiches. which cost $10 per pound when bought at the deli. I found a nice unsliced chunk of Columbus brand precooked pork loin at The Grocery Outlet for $3.50 per pound and bought one to try it out. I used our meat slicer, (my husband bought it at Costco around seven years ago, and it’s the first time I’ve used it!) and thinly sliced the whole thing. The resulting cold cuts taste just as good as the most expensive deli meats, so this is something we”ll be adding to our routine. Now, if I can only transition my husband away from his Luna Bars!

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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Apples, Apples, Apples!

by Katy on October 24, 2014 · 12 comments

I already knew that Portland Nursery marks the price of their apples down to 69¢ per pound the moment their Apple Festival ends, so I was more than happy to accept my friend Lise’s invitation to drive over and scoop up some bargain fruit.

I brought my own reusable bags and helped myself to a hundred pounds of apples.

Katy and apples

Why do I need so many apples? (In the pouring rain, do you see the rain?!)

Applesauce!

I swear this single apple could provide enough for an entire pint all by itself!

photo 9

Katy + Apples = Happy!

Katy & many apples

Click HERE to read about how I make my applesauce.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Today I drove my son to school, which passed us by a local business that had put out some stuff for free including this five-panel door:

Free door

I dropped my son at school and then swung back around to snap it up, as I’ve been wanting to make a headboard from an old door. And me being me, I didn’t want to pay for one. I confirmed with the workers that the door was indeed free. They then joked about whether or not I also wanted this free toilet.

Free toilet

I went and looked at it and noticed how the toilet seat looked brand new and had chrome hardware. And since my toilet seat does not look brand new, (thanks to an alcohol swipe that my son left on it overnight) I indeed did take the toilet seat.

After I’d gone home to grab some gloves.

Toilet selfie

I’m cheap, but still have some semblance of pride. (By the way I checked on Home Depot’s website, and this is a $37 toilet seat. Which means I keep getting an ad for this toilet seat on every website I visit!)

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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I am a thrift store geek! And because I live in Portland, Oregon, I am loyal to Goodwill. (Okay, okay, I sometimes cheat with the William Temple House thrift shop across town, but I promise it means nothing to me. I swear, It’s purely physical!) I hear from readers across the country about how their Goodwills aren’t as good as our Goodwills, and I admit it, I get a little smug. Portland cultivates its hipster reputation with its food carts, bicycle culture and Portlandia vibe, but I vote that it’s our Goodwill thrift shops that put us on the map.

Because the Goodwill Industries of The Columbia Willamette (GICW) know what they’re doing. Clean, organized and filled to the brim with treasures for the eagle-eyed customer.

So when I got an e-mail from the PR department, asking if I would like a behind the scenes tour of the Goodwill of my choice, there was no hesitation.

Why yes, I would enjoy a behind the scenes tour of Goodwill. (Understatement of the year!)

When I, the thrift store geek frugal queen of Portland think of Goodwill, it’s all about the thrift shops. But of course, the shops are just a means to an end. A way to raise money to support their mission, which is:

“To provide vocational opportunities to people with barriers to employment.”

And because the Goodwill thrift shops are so very successful and profitable, they’re able to do an amazing amount of outreach throughout the community.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me start at the beginning.

I met up with Dale Emanuel, the public relations manager of all things Goodwill and instead of going into the retail space, we walked into a different entrance which was kind of a through-the-wardrobe Narnian experience for me. (What? This was here the whole time?!) There’s a long bright hallway with offices and classrooms, and the entire length is dotted with framed photos of Goodwill employees and clients. And Ms. Dale knew the detailed back story of each and every single one of them. I madly scribbled notes trying (and failing) to keep track of all of the inspirational stories. From a woman whose traumatic brain injury left her with profound short term memory issues, to a young mother with a history of substance abuse, to developmentally disabled individuals, Dale shared their moving histories. (Goodwill does extensive outreach to homeless shelters, prisons and domestic violence shelters to locate people who would benefit from their programs.)

So many different backgrounds, yet all having Goodwill’s employment career enhancement services in common.

All the while, we’re poking our noses into their English as a second language (ESL) classrooms, the computer programming school, meeting co-workers and clients who all greet Dale by name and have a smile to share. Goodwill is proud that their entire mission is supported through their retail stores, and receives not a single penny in government funding.

Before I could ask about the controversy surrounding employees being paid less than minimum wage, I was given the full story and told that not one employee of GICW is paid less than minimum wage. None. (I also need to point out that each regions’ Goodwills are run completely separately, and the trainee whose family was upset was from a different region.) Also, GICW pays their job training participants. And because there are strict wage restrictions on persons receiving state or county benefits, training wages can result in diminished benefits. Each trainee does have an Individual Service Plan. And training wages are decided as a group and in accordance with Oregon Labor recommendations. (I imagine that paying a caseworker to put in the time to cut through all this red tape is extremely time consuming, and thus is not done as a cost cutting measure!)

We then walked across the street to the Day Services Center where I was introduced to a dozen or so developmentally delayed adults who spend their days finding community and learning important life skills. (Dale also knew the name of each and every one of them!) Clean, bright and filled with great resources, I learned more and more about where the money from my Goodwill purchases have been going. (Since I buy almost all my family’s clothing, gifts, furniture and household goods from Goodwill, it’s a sizable part of our household budget!)

Of course, no behind the scenes tour of any Goodwill would be complete without a look through the donation sorting area. I tried not to geek out too hard, but I’m afraid that I failed miserably.

Hence, this selfie:

Still life with Goodwill donations

I call it “Still Life With Goodwill Donations.”

And here I am standing inside the back of a Goodwill 18-wheeler:

I am very cool

So yeah, I kept my cool.

I learned a few new things about Goodwill, for example that employees are not allowed to buy any donated item until it’s been on the floor for three days. But I’m not too proud to brag that was able to teach Dale a thing or two, like that the pink tags, (which are new-from Target items) are never discounted. And when I pointed out that their mission is much more about employment than providing cheap goods, Dale responded that “We don’t raise money like a garage sale, we raise money like an auction.”

Then it was my turn to asking my burning questions:

How does Goodwill feel about dealers that snap up the good deals from the thrift shops?

“We love it. There are beaters and beemers in the parking lot.”

Are bedbugs are problem?

Donation sorters receive “training to know what to look for.”

What was your favorite Goodwill purchase?

A $47 white gold and diamond ring from ShopGoodwill.com.

What are some of the strangest donations that have come through the donation center?

“Bags of chicken feathers and false teeth.”

What was the most valuable Goodwill donation?

The most expensive donation ever was back in 2006. It was a mix media panting by masterpiece painter Frank Weston Benson, and it sold for $165,000 on ShopGoodwill.com!

The time finally came for my tour to end, and we decided to take a photo together. And when Dale asked me where I wanted to snap a pic, I knew the perfect backdrop. “In front of the wall of creepy dolls.” She knew exactly what I was talking about.

Goodwill wall of creepy dolls

Goodwill Industries of The Columbia Willamette is about to open a brand new pay-by-the-pound Outlet store on Airport Way, their 50th retail location! I was invited to be part of the festivities, but tragically, it’s on a day that I’m scheduled to work.

It tears my heart in two, but I guess I’ll have to shop as a regular customer.

A huge thank you to Dale Emanuel, who took an enormous amount of time from her busy schedule to take an unabashed fan-girl through every nook and cranny of the main Goodwill!

Impressive Goodwill Statistics:

  • In 2013 GICW served more than 62,700 people with barriers to employment  through their Job Connection, Employee Career Enhancement and ESL programs.
  • Total 2013 revenue was 152.4 million dollars!
  • GICW has been the #1 Goodwill-retailer in North America for 23 consecutive years.
  • Goodwill’s administrative costs are less than 5% of annual revenues.

For more information about Goodwill, please visit MeetGoodwill.org.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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