The following is a reprint of a previously published post. 

I am a lucky person. Why? Because I was lucky enough to be born into a country that values workers’ rights. As a hospital nurse, I take for granted that my enormous hospital has multiple fire extinguishers, fire doors, fire prevention protocols and policies that keep both people and structure from igniting.

Were Americans always so lucky?

No.

The industrial revolution hit our cities hard, and the influx of fresh immigrants meant that labor was both cheap and easily replaceable. Complain about your working conditions? Well there were many others who would be happy to take your job, so keep your mouth shut or get fired was pretty much the policy around the turn of the last century.

The New York City 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was a wake up call to America industry, and it allowed for the union movement to start bringing safe and reasonable working conditions to our workers. Child labor, unending work hours, locked work spaces and other blatantly unsafe working conditions finally got the scrutiny they deserved.

It wasn’t immediate or easy, but unions brought safe workplaces to America.

Problem solved, right?

Wrong.

American manufacturers, now saddled with  the cost of paying working wages built overseas factories in countries that did not require the same workplace safety measures. Where cheap unending labor was once again easy to find and where abject poverty was the norm.

I wrote in 2010 about a factory fire in Bangladesh that killed a least a hundred people, where most deaths were attributed to workers jumping from upper story windows because a gate to the stairwell was locked.

Read that again, the stairwell was locked.

This garment factory was producing clothing for Gap, JCPenney, H & M and Wal Mart.

And now the story of another Bangladeshi garment factory fire has hit the news. 

“The Tazreen fire is the latest in a series of deadly blazes at garment factories in Bangladesh, where more than 700 workers, many making clothes for U.S. consumers, have died in factory fires in the past five years. As previously reported by ABC News, Bangladesh has some of the cheapest labor in the world and some of the most deplorable working conditions.”

I like a bargain as much as the next person, probably more. But there is a cost, a human cost to all those super cheap deals.

I will not be taking advantage of all the awesomely cheap consumer goods to support my holiday shopping this year.

Or any year.

Join me and buy used, buy American, buy local, buy from manufacturers who certify their safe labor practices.

And keep those poor workers and their families in your thoughts. They are just as deserving of safe working conditions as you and I.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy! Click HERE to read the original post which has 130 comments with some great advice and ideas!

One of the great things about The Non-Consumer Advocate is that it has evolved from a traditional blog to a genuine community. There are often conversations between readers within the comments section, that occur without any of my input.

And the conversations on The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook Group? They’re insanely fantastic, sometimes it’s all I can do to a word in edgewise! It’s pretty common for readers to pose questions about sustainability, gardening, simple living, how to get a particular used item or, you guessed it, money issues. And while I’m thinking through how to best answer the question, a dozen or more readers will jump in with really thoughtful answers that knock my socks off. I often get great ideas and inspiration from the group.

But sometimes, a reader will write a question that begs for a larger audience than the 14,054 current members, and I bring that question over to the main blog.

Today is one of those days, so please help Amy, who is asking for ideas on how to get by on a very small income:

I’ve been an on again off again frugal person with more on time than off. Currently I find myself in a situation of almost an impossibly TIGHT budget. I’m talking $100 a month for food and a few necessities for 2 people hopefully that will increase a bit after the first of the year. A little background, It’s just my hubby and I plus pets (2 small dogs and a very old cat) . About 6 years ago hubby was in an accident and suffered a brain injury which left him unable to work. We were doing okay with his WC income and SSD but then the Social Security people said they goofed up the math and overpaid him so for the next 2 years they are withholding his SSD to make up for the overpayment. It’s crazy and it frankly it makes my brain hurt to think about it. Anyway I’m here to learn and to share and maybe we’ll make it through this tight spot in better shape than we entered it.

Here, I’ll start:

Amy, first of all, I’m very sorry to hear about your husband, I can’t even imagine how hard this must be for you. My family has been in situations where our income hardly covered our expenses, (husband in school, me working part time with tiny children) but we always knew it was temporary.

Here are a few ideas to bring your expenses down:

  • Stop buying most anything disposable. This means paper towels, paper napkins, plastic silver wear, Kleenex.
  • Stop buying drinks when water will do. This means soda, juice, alcohol, and the like. Make coffee and tea at home, and keep a pitcher of tap water in the fridge, so there’s always a cool drink available. Make ice tea from tea bags instead of a mix. And it goes without saying, no bottled water!
  • Buy your food wherever it’s cheapest. This might mean fruit from one store and cereal from another. And certainly say goodbye to any brand loyalty. Buy whatever is on sale that week rather than having a set grocery list that doesn’t waver. This means only buy strawberries in early summer, pears in the fall and asparagus in the spring. Look into ethnic grocery stores, as they often provide great bargains. Also, take a look at dollar stores.
  • Eat less meat, and embrace the bean! Dried beans cooked in a slow cooker or a pressure cooker are the best protein bargain in town. Vegetarian chili, lentil soup, black bean burgers, rice and bean burritos and enchiladas are all tasty without sacrifice.
  • Study all of your set expenses. Are you paying extra for low deductible home owners insurance or add-ons on your phone line? Call your insurance agent and let them know if you’re driving less and ask about any new discounts. Call all the customer service numbers and negotiate lower rates. I have done this, and it’s easy! If you have a cell phone, then cancel your landline.
  • Get to know your library for what they offer beyond books. DVD’s, CD’s, audio books, whatever. And then, (this is important here) return everything on time.
  • Take advantage of all the free events that your city or town offers. Concerts, movies, museum nights, readings, lectures, dances performances, etc. There is no reason to sit at home just because you have no money.
  • If there’s something that you need, see if any of your friends or family have an extra one. Facebook is great for this. And if it’s something you just need to use rather than own, see if you can borrow it.

But sometimes employing frugal practices is simply not enough, and you need to be bringing in more money, in which case you should consider:

  • Sell unused items from your home. It doesn’t have be a priceless object, as unwatched DVD’s, books, electronics, furniture, clothing, video games, sporting equipment and kitchenware can also plump up your bank account. Try Craigslist, as it’s free without the annoyance of shipping.
  • Start using Swagbucks for your internet searches. This website gives out points (A.K.A. “Swagbucks”) for searching the web, which can then be used to buy different items, (although I always choose the Paypal gift cards.) You won’t get rich from this, but you might as well earn money something you’d be doing anyway.
  • However, be aware that your government benefits may cap the amount of income you can bring in, so be careful here.

Now your turn. What money saving/money earning advice do you have for Amy to help her through this difficult period of her life? Please share your ideas 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 September 5, 2016 · 67 comments

  1. My family indulged in an evening of Popeye’s takeout when my sister’s family was visiting. (They had a $5 deal which included two pieces of chicken, two sides and a biscuit, so it really was an amazing price!) I have a ton of leftover whipped butter packets as well as various “dipping sauces” including buttermilk ranch dressing. I used three of the ranch dressings for tonight’s salad, which caused my younger son flipped out from how delicious he thought it was. I’ve been using the butters for scrambled eggs, and will likely have enough to last a couple more weeks.
  2. I took my sons to see Kubo and The Two Strings this afternoon. Because we chose a matinee in a local theater, the price was only $7.50 per ticket, plus we were able to walk from the house. The movie was beautiful and since Laika is a local production company, I was supporting a hometown business.
  3. I cleaned one of my mother’s guest cottages yesterday and brought home an almost full canister of Hershey’s cocoa powder. The chore itself was particularly odious, so my mother tipped me an extra twenty bucks.
  4. I submitted another Clark Howard article and proposed three new article ideas.
  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet.

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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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on September 4, 2016 · 52 comments

Big sister

  1. My refrigerator had developed an impressive echo, so I stopped at The Grocery Outlet this morning, where I purchased four huge bags of groceries for a little over $50.
  2. My husband and I finally sat down this afternoon to plan out our September budget. It’s another five paycheck month for the two of us, so it was an enjoyable job.
  3. I stopped at the library to return books my sister had checked out during her visit. I was able to score the newest Anne Tyler book from the Lucky Day section.
  4. I cooked a batch of white bean soup, which I spiced up with a leftover tube of soy chorizo from my sister’s visit. Very yummy and super frugal!
  5. My mother, sister and I stopped into the pay-by-the-pound Goodwill Outlet on my sister’s last full day in Portland. For the low, low price of only $16.40 the three of us bought:
  • One chair back cushion.
  • One twin contour sheet.
  • Two glass storage containers.
  • One pair of Ralph Lauren shorts.
  • One Pyrex lid.
  • One Ikea store tub.
  • One Crystal candle holder.
  • One mini-blinder cleaner.
  • One vintage canning funnel.
  • One pair of wool socks.
  • Silkscreening fabric.
  • One Talbots jacket.
  • One Forever 21 tunic top.
  • One pair of Hanna Andersson pajama bottoms.
  • One pair of H&M jeans.
  • One pair of “STS” blue jeans.
  • One T-shirt.
  • Vintage recipe cards.
  • One reproduction 1953 Queen’s coronation saucer.
  • One box of plastic archival sleeves.
  • Did not buy the “So You’re going to be a Big Sister” book.

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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This post first appeared over at Clark Howard.com.

Unless you’re self employed, you likely have a few work perks that sweeten your compensation package. For most people it’s medical and dental insurance, a retirement plan and maybe a deal on your company’s retail products. Oftentimes there are discounts on local attractions, cell phone plans or a gym membership. But occasionally a company’s work perks are significant enough to tip the scales and transform a low paying or unsatisfying job into one that’s worth your consideration.

Free flights

Everyone knows that pilots and flight attendants get free flights, but did you know that other airline employees also receive this benefit? From the desk clerks to the cleaning crews, taking a job in the airlines industry can transform your vacations from backyard camping to jet-setting adventures. Add in that airline employees often enjoy hotel discounts, and you’ll even have a cheap place to stay once you arrive at your destination.

Free tuition

Few people would recommend teaching as a fast track to wealth, but if you work in higher education or at a private school, the free or discounted tuition can change that scenario. University and college employees (not just teachers) usually receive free tuition for themselves and even their dependents, which can add tens of thousands per year to a compensation package. You might even consider searching out a job with a non-education based company that provides a free tuition benefit. When even Starbucks pays for their employees to matriculate, you’d be smart to snag one of these jobs.

Free food

Who among us can claim to not be a fan of free food? Whether you’re lucky enough to work for a company that provides free meals, (many do!) or simply work for a restaurant or caterer, free food can be a terrific perk with your job. Restaurants usually provide a free meal per shift, but will often send employees home with unserved food.

Free ambulance services

This one may sound odd, but my husband is a paramedic with a national company, and one of his perks is that he or his immediate family members can receive one free ambulance trip per year. Although this is a benefit we’d rather not use, we’ve actually used it twice through the years. Once when my son broke his arm and another time when my father in law took a nasty spill. Transportation and treatment by ambulance can cost upwards of a thousand bucks, so this benefit is pretty great.

Free sports tickets

Sports teams and stadiums are usually sponsored by big name companies, which means that their employees can get free or at least discounted tickets. My employer sponsors the soccer stadium here in Portland, Oregon which means that employees can sign up for the occasional free ticket. Go team!

Adoption assistance

Many employers provide an amount that can be put towards the expenses of adoption, often in the range of $2000. Not enough to pay the average cost of $40,121 for a traditional adoption, but still extremely helpful. Ask your human resources representative if your company offers this benefit.

Free museum passes

Whether you work for a cultural attraction with a reciprocal admission agreement or a private company with ties to a museum, this perk can save you a lot of money. With admissions ranging in the $25 range for NYC museum such as The Museum of Modern Art or The Whitney, a museum visit can turn into a significant investment. A friend of mine works for a large financial company that provides these passes to their employees, and he’s been kind enough to share them when I visit.

Student loan forgiveness

There are a number of organizations that participate in student loan forgiveness programs. Usually as an incentive to cover underserved areas, these programs forgive the payoff on federally insured student loans after a specified period. This government site can be a good start to researching these opportunities.

Conclusion

I’ve held a number of interesting jobs throughout my forty-eight years, ranging from British shoe sales to Macy’s elf. Although I had my favorites, a few of them provided work perks that I look back upon with fondness. The retail store that provided a cost-plus-10% discount on absolutely everything in the store, and the free movie admissions from a local theater stand out in my mind. My current job as an RN provides a free $888 public transportation pass, which brightens my day when work gets tough.

Whether it’s free food or free college tuition, works perks can and should be considered when looking at a compensation package.

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 August 31, 2016 · 107 comments

Dumpster Dale

  1. We took a day trip to Hood River, Oregon to watch the amazing kiteboarders and enjoy the town. Although the lunch was pricey, the rest of the day was quite frugal and featured my husband gleaning a wall bike rack from a literal pile of garbage.
  2. We stopped after lunch for some “walking around coffee.” I was about to accept the paper cup, when I suddenly remembered that I’d brought a reusable mug, which was in the nearby car. Luckily it was a serve-your-own coffee situation, so we caught this before a cup/lid was used. My husband and sister had also packed reusable mugs, so we were all able to enjoy zero-waste beverages.
  3. We’d initially planned on staying a few nights at the Oregon coast during my sister’s two-week visit, but then realized that none of us welcomed the expense. Instead we planned a few day trips, (beach, mountain, gorge) which have been very enjoyable without the cost of a motel. This plan has justified some lovely restaurant meals which still leave us with more money in our wallets than if we’d stayed the night.
  4. I stopped into the Boutique Goodwill in Hood River, but didn’t buy anything. I zipped over to Fred Meyer this morning to buy milk, butter, tea and bananas and only bought milk, butter, tea and bananas. (Seriously, it’s always a frugal win when you stick to your list!) I received payment on some Clark Howard articles, I keep re-listing all my Craigslist listings* and I just learned that my younger son’s dorm bed will be a regular twin, not “twin-XL” size. Much easier to thrift for!
  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet.

* I sold a comforter/sham set as a direct result of re-listing my Craigslist ads. It was one that I’d gleaned for free from a garage sale leftovers pile a few weeks ago.

 

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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My sister and I love nothing more than to spend an an hour or two going from thrift store to thrift store. So when our sons had plans to watch the Portland-Seattle Timbers soccer game, and my niece had a special grandma date, we knew the stars had aligned for an afternoon of thrifting.

See how happy we are?

Goodwill sisters

Of course, thrifting is a crap shoot as the merchandise is random and I’m as likely to buy nothing from Goodwill as I am to bring something to the register. I had no choice but to take a photo of this statuette, which I promptly texted to my son.

I received no reply.

World's best mom

I liked this particular “College Fund” targeted savings bank, as it was actually large enough to stuff some serious cash into. My hand is there for scale.

College fund

I was horrified by this pair of nurse’s shoes. As a skilled RN I get annoyed/offended by products that infantilize my profession. Reminds me of the fanny pack I once received that said “Nurses are Bear-y special!” Of course it featured a teddy bear.

Gag.

World's ugliest nurse's shoes

But then I spied a flash of color in the dishware section and I knew I’d struck gold. I’ve been collecting Fiestaware since high school, so I can locate a piece from a hundred yards away. These 12 inch vintage divided plates sell for around $50 apiece on eBay and I picked them up for $3.99 apiece.

YES!

I gave the green one to my father as a gift, and have put the other three onto Craigslist.

Fiestaware divided plates

We then hit a suburban Goodwill, where I immediately spied the corner of this antique oval mirror. I pulled it out from behind a stack of framed bland artwork and knew I’d lucked out again. Priced at $6.99, this purchase was a no brainer.

antique mirror

Look how beautiful it is!

full antique mirror

Even though it appears to feature a crazy lady. Again, I’ve put this Goodwill find onto Craigslist, although I’m happy to enjoy it until it can be rehomed.

monkey in the mirror

I was tempted to buy this kitchy tissue box holder.

vintage style tissue box

Especially since it originally cost $19.99.

price tag original

Plus the half-off tag color was green. However, my family uses handkerchiefs and toilet paper instead of tissues. Also, I noticed that my internal dialogue featured a lot of me trying to convince myself to buy it, and my rule is that I don’t bring anything home if I have to actively convince myself to it buy it.

goodwill price tag

I then discovered an alcove off to the side with a jumble of furniture. And although this table was under another table, I recognized the style as mid-century Lane, which is highly in demand.

Vintage Lane table

Even though it featured an add-on of some kind of effed-up DIY locking mechanism.

crappy lock

Which of course was no favor to the wood. However, this will be a fun project for me and although I’m tempted to keep this table it’ll likely to find its way onto Craigslist as well.

holes in wood

I thought I was done shopping, but then my eyes landed on this groovy vintage chair. It’s a Steelcase brand chair, but is essentially a Knoll knockoff. Also priced at $6.99, I knew I could sell it without any problem. The fabric was a little grubby, but it was nothing that a little time under my Bissell upholstery shampooer couldn’t fix.

So cool!

Steelcase chair

What did my sister buy? Just a ton of half-off T-shirts for a silkscreening project. After all, anything she buys here will need to be schlepped back to New York.

We had such a fun afternoon, especially since we sneaked in a lunch at an amazing Mediterranean restaurant that we found though Yelp.com.

None of my Craigslist listings have sold yet, but it’s just a matter of time. Plus I think many people are on vacation right now, so I’m anticipating an uptick in a week or two.

I’m going to miss my sister when she heads home at the end of the week.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 29 comments }

Goodwill Sisters

Guess what my sister and I did yesterday?

Stay tuned for a blog post tomorrow to learn what we scored!

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 August 28, 2016 · 62 comments

Duran Duran concert

  1. Okay, this is likely the MOST FRUGAL THING I’VE EVER DONE, so wait for it . . . My sister and I found out that Duran Duran was playing an outdoor concert on the Portland waterfront last night. I drove us down to the area, where we circled the area over and over (and over) again with the windows down. We sang along, we danced in our seats and I worked very hard to not hit any drunk pedestrians. (Of which there were many!) They played Rio, The Reflex, Girls on Film, as well as many other songs, and I got to hear Simon LeBon say “My name is Bon, Simon LeBon.” Sigh . . .
  2. I took my son to a University of Oregon incoming student event, which included tons of free yummy food. Unlike the other parents, I enjoyed a full free meal that included delicious marinated veggies, gourmet cheeses, meats and tropical fruits. I then used my free work perk bus pass to take myself home while my son met up with his cousin to hunt for Pokémon.
  3. I brought home two desk lamps from last week’s garage sale leftovers excursion. Unfortunately, they both needed new specialty light bulbs. I went ahead and put them on my curb with signs about how they require new bulbs. It wasn’t worth it for me to buy the bulbs, but it might be for someone else.
  4. I listed some garbage picked baby shower invitations on eBay, I took notes for a Clark Howard piece, I worked one day, I confirmed that I’m track to work 800 hours this year, which will qualify me for a $1.25 per hour bonus for all of 2016, I updated my online budget and I relisted all my Craigslist listings,
  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet.

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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{ 62 comments }

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

A recent post on Apartment Therapy asked readers for their best method to refinish metal leg caps, which reminded me of a project I’d been meaning to tackle.

Remember this midcentury bookshelf that I picked up a few months back? (I think I paid something crazy like $2.99 for it!) It had loads of neeto-jets 45° angles, but the metal cap feet were unforgivably rusted out and were hardly worth highlighting.

However, I still had the gold paint pen from my frame project, so I taped off a leg and got to work. I was unsure how it would look, so I started with one of the back legs.

Rusty Feet

Of course, me being myself, I reused the blue painter’s tape with each leg as I am:

  1. Cheap.
  2. Loathe to be wasteful.
  3. Obsessive about how long I can go before replacing new stuff like stupidly expensive painter’s tape.

Blue Tape

The project was actually quite fun, as I set up up in front of an episode of Alias. (J.J. Abrams being my second favorite producer/director after Joss Whedon.)

Hello, Jennifer Garner Sydney Bristow, why no wacky wig today?

Shelf - before

And here’s how incredible the metal leg caps looked after the caresses of my magical golden pen.

Like the necklaces that adorn the chest of Mr. T, nothing but pure golden goodness is allowed.

“I pity the fool who lets their metal leg caps go rusty!”

Happy Feet

I also went ahead and gave the wood a nourishing rubdown with my trusty Aspercreme Restore-A-Finish, which coaxes finished wood  from dry to glossy, while also minimizing scratches and gouges.

Here’s a gratuitous detail shot of the bookshelf.

Hello, lover . . .

Detail Bookshelf

And here’s the shelf all lovely and refurbished.

Now, if all home improvement projects could be this cheap and easy . . .

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 12 comments }