Is 2017 Your Year to Stop Buying New?

by Katy on December 31, 2016 · 55 comments

December is almost over, which means the end of holiday shopping, holiday decorating and holiday cooking. It also means that it’s time to work on your New Year’s resolutions. Because if you wait until December 31st to figure out your 2017 goals, it might end up being nothing less than a depressingly self-serving to-do list:

  • Lose weight
  • Learn French
  • Exercise more
  • Stop watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

But I have a new year’s resolution for you to ponder:

Buy nothing new for a year. It’s called The Compact, and it’s a world-wide movement where people make a one year commitment to stop buying new stuff. There are no official rules, and everyone puts their own twists and exceptions in their Compact. (For example, I allow purchases of new underwear, socks and harmonicas .) Because I’ve been participating in The Compact since 2007, my rules have relaxed and I do buy a few new things every now and then, but for the most part it’s a rarity.

Everyone brings their own personal motivation to the project, and for some the choice to avoid new stuff is purely environmental, while for others it’s a financial decision. Doesn’t matter, as it’s your decision, and the result is the same. Over manufacture of unnecessary and overly packaged stuff is a huge global issue, and The Compact is a great way to take a personal stand.

So, what do you say . . . can I talk you into trying The Compact?

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 December 30, 2016 · 88 comments

  1. I made my younger son’s payment for his winter term tuition/room/board. This $8000+ amount would not normally fall under any sane person’s category of “frugal,” but it’s only because of frugality and myriad side gigs that it’s possible to save $5,000 per month towards having two kids in college at the same time. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Next payment? April 1st, then we’ll have a leisurely six months to save up for the fall tuition payments.
  2. I called Comcast and spoke to a “retention specialist” who was able to drop $14 from our monthly internet bill, as well as extend the free HBO that they’ve been giving us since last summer. Because of “bundling,” it’s cheaper to have internet plus basic cable than it is to simply have internet. And my internet service? It’s a blogging expense that I deduct from my taxes.
  3. My husband and I watched a library DVD of Singing in The Rain last night. I’ve always loved this movie, especially since my grandmother was friends with Gene Kelly. (He taught dance classes at my family’s Pittsburgh synagogue before he was famous.) I actually put the movie on hold before Debbie Reynold’s death, which made it especially meaningful. My young father actually took dance classes from Gene Kelly, which is sadly undocumented. I would pay big bucks to see a photograph of my dad and Gene Kelly tap dancing together!
  4. My younger son and I cleaned one of my mother’s rental cottages between tenants, the same son picked up two shifts at the art supply store where he’s worked since age 14, I got another Clark Howard article assignment, I sold books to my nearby Powell’s bookstore, we ate heated leftovers for last night’s dinner and I have two “free burrito” coupons from Chipotle that expire tomorrow that I’ll be hacking for optimal tonnage.
  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet or a 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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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on December 27, 2016 · 70 comments

  1. My husband brought home some nice roasted turkey that was leftover from a work event. We already had potatoes, so I whipped up a quick batch of mashed potatoes and gravy. Add in a 99¢ packet of frozen peas and the cranberry sauce still leftover from Thanksgiving and we now have a feast for tonight’s dinner without much expense or effort.
  2. I’ve been better about goofing around on Swagbucks whenever I’m watching TV. My goal is to earn three $25 Paypal gift cards per month, and although I don’t always meet this goal, it’s still free money. And since I can simply transfer the money into my credit union account, my Swagbuck points can be used for anything . . . including college tuition! (Yes, I know. I’m single minded and boring. Let me be your cautionary tale to start saving early!)
  3. I renewed my Craiglist listings, as well as started a new one for a girl’s bike that I bought and then somehow shoved into the basement and forgot about. I’m asking $75 for a $350 Specialized brand bike, so hopefully it’ll sell quickly. Although my eBay listings are generating almost zero interest, my sister’s are, so I’m living vicariously through her.
  4. I was able to put together a meal for eight for $3 last night. This was because I had free leftover ham, (from my “turkey or ham” Christmas bonus every year) which anchored a large pot of white bean rosemary soup. I then baked a large loaf of bread, which probably set me back around 50¢. Delicious doesn’t have to be expensive.
  5. I’ve been saving packing supplies to use for eBay sales, I turned in another Clark Howard article, I walked to the grocery store and only bought what was on my list (milk and flour) and 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 December 26, 2016 · 81 comments

  1. I was able to do almost all of my holiday shopping using a $75 Goodwill gift card, plus a $75 Amazon gift card from my husband’s employer. I did spend $200 on gift cards/cash, but that was in the budget.
  2. We paid my older son’s $7,300 college bill for the winter term and will pay my younger son’s $7,800 bill at the end of the week after I get my last paycheck of the year. These payments require a lot of scrimping and saving, especially since we just went through this on October 1st. However, it’s important to me that we do everything we can to avoid the boys graduating under a mountain of student loan debt. Next payment . . . April 1st.
  3. I avoided wasteful holiday gift wrap by placing all holiday gifts into reusable gift bags that I pull out each and every year. For larger gifts, I wrap them in plain colored flat sheets that I then tie with a bow. We’ll put out no more garbage this week than any random week.
  4. My older son will be renewing his lifeguarding certification this week so that he can work over the summer. He’s really good about saving his money so that’s it’s available during the school year. Both sons are responsible for paying for their own books and general expenses while away at college.
  5. I met my goal of working over 800 hours this year, as there was a bonus available for resource nurses who put in the hours. I’ll get an extra $1.25 per hour worked during the 2016 calendar year included in my first 2017 paycheck. And since I worked a few hours shy of 1000 hours, this’ll help to jump start the college fund for the spring term payments.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Happy Chanukah & a Merry Christmas!

by Katy on December 24, 2016 · 13 comments

May your home be filled with peace and love this holiday season!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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I’m just a girl, standing in front of some Goodwill crap, asking it to love me. #NottingHill

Or . . . I’m a nurse, who had an English minor, who gets annoyed with incorrect apostrophe usage.

Or . . . I’m a non consumer trying to do all of her holiday shopping without buying anything new.

Whatever it is, that targeted savings bank is THE WORST!

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 December 19, 2016 · 74 comments

  1. My younger son and I spent yesterday going from Goodwill to Goodwill (to Goodwill) in the name of holiday shopping. Until then, I’d only bought a single holiday gift so far this year so I was starting to get a little panicky. I found a couple of small $1.99 items for my mother, as well as a brand new $9.99 Martha Stewart flannel duvet cover for my son. My plan for this son’s main gift was some proper winter bedding, so this was a score. The colors are navy blue and forest green, so it should be easy to find matching sheets. My son was with me, but I referred to the folded up duvet cover as “fabric,” which caught 0.0% of his interest.
  2. One of the Goodwills that we visited had a bin of brand new Target swim trunks priced at 4/99¢! My younger son’s needed a new suit, so we pawed through the pile until we found a suitable pair in his size. The cashier was mystified that we were only buying a single suit and kept telling us that “they’re four for a dollar, you need to get three more.” I joked that we only needed a single pair and that “you can only wear one pair at a time.”  24¢ swim trunks? Yes, please!
  3. I worked a couple days in a row at the hospital last week on days that my husband was also working. I was really worried that weather conditions would make it so that I’d have to sleep overnight at work. I went ahead and prepped a number of meals ahead of time, so that the fridge would be full of grab-and-go food. Luckily, the worst of the weather had passed, but I really enjoyed five evenings of not having to cook, and my family really enjoyed the lasagna, beef stew, lentil soup and seafood pasta.
  4. My son bought himself a $4.99 pair of grubby Pure Boost Adidas that needed nothing more than a quick scrub to get them looking good as new. Considering that these shoes sold for $130 new, it’s not a bad investment.
  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet or a 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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Most & Least Returned Holiday Gifts

by Katy on December 15, 2016 · 60 comments

Face it, gift giving is hard. Sure, there might be a few people on your list who are easy to shop for, but for the most part you’re rolling the dice when deciding what to buy. Add in the time and effort it takes to shop, wrap and deliver your gifts, and it’s no wonder that many people find themselves stressed during the month of December. Unfortunately, chances are that your carefully chosen gifts are going right back to the store. Shoppers return nearly $70 billion of purchases during the holiday season. Yes, you read that right. Seventy billion-with-a-b dollars! However, with a bit of planning, you can avoid some of the most commonly returned gifts from your shopping list.

Clothing

According to a study conducted by Kohl’s, clothing/shoes are by far the most returned gift category, and makes up a full “62% of all returns.”  This makes sense as fit differs from brand to brand, plus it’s near to impossible to truly know another person’s clothing style. Steer clear of this category if you you’re hoping that your gift will be received joyfully.

Decor

Most of us enjoy creating home spaces that reflect our individual aesthetic. But when well meaning friends and family decide that our home needs multiple sparkly pillows or moose theme artwork, it comes a problem. Avoid decor gifts, especially quirky ones that Newsweek points out are “most likely to go awry.”

Candles

Candles are such a quintessentially uninspired gift, that Saturday Night Live recently produced a hilarious video titled The Christmas Candle, featuring fur clad actresses who sing about how “It’s the gift of having a gift to give away.” When you take into consideration that candle burning has been linked to multiple health issues, it’s best to keep a hundred yard distance from this clichéd gift.

So what gifts are least likely to be returned? That’s a hard one as The Daily Mail has reported that as much as “42% of women return their husband’s holiday gifts.” However, these ideas should please most recipients!

Consumables

Whether you’re giving home baked goods or a restaurant gift certificate, everybody loves food. National chains sell gift cards which work well for far flung family, and it can be nice to support local establishments for your in-town friends. Wine, gourmet goodies and other fancy treats fit in with most everyone’s style. Just make sure to be aware of any dietary restrictions.

Experiential gifts

We’re all fighting against the monster called clutter, which make experiential gifts perfect for friends with limited space or those who already own everything they could ever possibly want or need. Great examples include:

  • Movie or theater tickets.
  • Museum or zoo memberships.
  • Tickets to a concert, lecture or sporting event.
  • A gift certificate for pampering.
  • Tunes gift card.

Gift Cards

Gifts cards get a bad rap as a lazy or thoughtless gift, but with a bit of extra effort they can be a truly welcome gift that’s sure to be redeemed. Instead of a general gift card such as Target or Amazon, choose a place that shows you’ve given thought to your recipient’s interests. Examples include:

  • Independent bookstore.
  • Favorite restaurant.
  • Video gaming store.
  • A local toy store.
  • Coffee shop.

Cash

You might feel like a character from The Sopranos when choosing cash as a gift, but at least you know that it’s 100% unlikely to be returned. (Luckily, there are ways to give money than behind The Bada-Bing.) One fun way to elevate gifted cash is to fold it into fun shapes, like these stars. I folded $100 into stars for my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah a few years ago, which was much more of a hit than any check would have been. YouTube is full of tutorials on how to fold money, which can be a very fun activity. Just make sure to stop by the bank for crisp new bills.

Conclusion

You’d think that the cycle of gift giving would be complete on December 26th, but that’s far from the truth as studies have shown that “17 percent of recipients planned to donate an unwanted present, 13 percent planned to regift one and 10 percent would simply throw the bad gift away.” However, with a bit of forethought you can avoid burdening your loved ones with the most commonly returned gifts.

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 December 14, 2016 · 76 comments

  1. My sister’s eBay listings are starting to sell, so I borrowed from her enthusiasm to get a couple listings going for myself. (What I currently have up isn’t generating much interest, but things can only sell if I get off my tuchus to list them.) It only takes a few minutes to throw together a listing, so I’m going to scour the house for more stuff. Remember . . . the alternate tagline for The Non-Consumer Advocate is “Crap out of the house, money in!”
  2. My younger son and I met up with my mother to clean one of her rental cottages, although we first stopped at a local Goodwill. I bought a vintage Ball canning jar, and my son bought a pair of Balenciaga sneakers that can sell for as much as $400 on eBay. However, we need to research them first to ensure that they aren’t knockoffs. If they are, we’ll return them.
  3. Last night’s dinner was straight up leftovers from the previous day. Luckily, I’d made a pot roast with mashed potatoes, gravy, carrots and onions, so it was amazingly delicious. I usually make much more food than needed for a single meal in order to stock the fridge with indulgent leftovers.
  4. Portland is expecting a snowstorm this afternoon with cold temperatures lasting for days. I’m going to take it as an opportunity to cook up multiple meals for the boys to eat, as both my husband and I will be working long hours later in the week. My hospital is at a higher elevation, so there’s a possibility that I’ll be stuck there for days. I am sure missing my Subaru Outback this week.
  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet or a ridiculous 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 following is a reprint from an earlier blog post. Enjoy.

Dearest Belmont Branch Library,

I’ve lain awake many a sleepless night trying to conjure up words that might adequately describe the feelings of my heart. But every time I make the attempt, I have failed miserably. Please forgive my poor effort and accept a trite and simple phrase: I love you. 

I recall my first visits to you, two-year-old in tow, belly swollen with crazy monster #2. Your heavy front doors would swing open so obligingly at the touch of a button, the air conditioning cooling the sweat from my fevered brow. I knew then that this love was reciprocal. But still I was not ready to melt the frost from my heart. Too many libraries in the past had attempted to seduce me with fragile promises of literary bliss, only to dash my dreams with irregular hours and indifferent librarians. You were the Mr. Darcy to my Elizabeth Bennett. Prickly and yet so perfect for one another.

When you were closed for renovations I felt as though my heart were being ripped out. Yes, I could go to storytime at the Hollywood branch, but it was cold, sterile, full of strangers. I longed for your familiar touch.

But you have won me over, body and soul. When I bring my son in for the “Read to the Dogs” program, I know this is not just puppy love. Wally the dog, you do not fool me while pretending to sleep through the “Star Wars Pop Up Book,” I know your canine heart pants for one more story.

Without you I am incomplete. What would I read? How could I live without the hypnotic caress of the perfect audio book, soothing the crushing boredom of housework. The stacks of crisp Manga to entice my 12 year old into a relaxing stupor. And “Star Trek” DVD sets, how could I exist without the geeky splendor of “Star Trek?!”

It’s not just the thousands of dollars you have saved me in video/ DVD rentals and book purchases. It is the non-judgmental love that flows between us. I love you, Belmont branch library. Never leave me again.

Fall in love with your library, it’s the easiest relationship you’ll ever have.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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