by Katy on September 29, 2008 · 8 comments

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A Wrap-Up Of Spend No Money Week

by Katy on September 29, 2008 · 2 comments



As you may recall, I issued a Spend No Money Challenge for the week of September 22 – September 28. In stepping back from all purchases, this latest challenge would hopefully result in much more deliberation in how we spend our money.A little savings wouldn’t hurt either.

As The Non-Consumer Advocate, my goal is to be a completely conscious consumer. To not be blind to how and where our money is spent. This does not mean we are miserly and tightfisted. Quite the contrary. We enjoy meals out and evenings at the movies. We give to charities and enjoy entertaining. What we don’t do is buy expensive impulse items to keep up with the Joneses.

As I had written mid-week, I actually started the challenge two days early on the 20th. So by Wednesday, the bread box was bare and the husband was less than enthused. Our first purchase was for some milk, bread and a few other necessities. I could have started the week with a stockpile of groceries, but that kind of felt like cheating. Oh yeah . . . I also gassed up on Wednesday, as I felt it served no great purpose to have the car lose power while on my way home from work.

On Friday, (our last day of the spend no money challenge) my husband was going to be out by Costco, so he picked up some chicken, cheese and lunch meat. He bought nothing that was impulsive or pre-prepared. We’ve certainly had years when it was impossible to get out of a warehouse store for under a hundred bucks. Tools, clothes, snacks — it all adds up faster than you can say, “ten pound bag of cheese-doodles.”

There were definitely a few times I would have gone out and spent money and didn’t. I was really itching for a Trader Joe’s trip. I ran out of olive oil, and actually prepared a batch of hummus with melted butter. (Which I would suggest you put on your don’t-try-this-at-home list.) I was invited out to lunch a few times, and declined even when the invit-er offered to pay for the invit-ee.

Even though I was not able to get through the week without spending any money, I still feel we were successful with the challenge. The only things we bought were necessities. We all brown bagged our lunches, and ate in every night. There was no recreational shopping, and no spontaneous purchases.

I found it not at all difficult to keep away from non-food spending. I’ve already weaned myself off from this type of shopping/entertainment, so it was a non-issue.

We definitely did not keep up with the Joneses, but we did keep up with the Wolk-Stanleys.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

How did you do? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.


Haggle Your Way To a Bargain

by Katy on September 28, 2008 · 5 comments


With prices at all time highs, I’m needing to reach deep into my bag of tricks.

Working hard to not waste food?


Entertaining ourselves at home instead of going out?


Buying only second hand consumer goods?


But am I spending as little money as possible when I’m making purchases?

This is where the art of bargaining comes in. And anyone who has ever visited a foreign land can tell you, it is an art. An important thread in the tapestry of any sale. 

But here in the United States, people dread having to bargain. Car dealerships advertise one-price-only policies, and most people don’t realize that the marked price can be just the starting point.

So how is bargaining done? 

Lines which I find work well without being offensive to the seller are:

“Is this a firm price?” or “Are your prices firm?” or “Are you able to lower the price on this?”

This puts the seller in the position of either offering a lower price, asking you what you’d like to pay, or saying that yes, the prices are firm. My experience has been that most vendors are perfectly willing to haggle.

I’ve been able to get prices lowered everywhere from the expected, (garage sales) to the unexpected, (Target.)

A common reason why a vendor would lower a price is damaged packaging. To a store, this means a product that is less likely to sell. But to a buyer, it really makes no difference, as you are going to remove the packaging anyway. (Carefully recycling each and every bit — of course.)

The one thing that is most important when trying to bring down a price is to be polite and friendly. There’s nothing to be gained from insulting the merchandise or being rude.

Nobody wants to do a favor for a jerk.

The best bargaining ends with both parties feeling good.

So next time you’re shopping, go ahead and try the art of bargaining. It’ll be like going on a mini vacation abroad.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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


Compare The Candidates On Green Issues

by Katy on September 27, 2008 · 2 comments

Did you watch the first U.S. Presidential candidate debate, yet not get any questions answered about green issues?

Yeah, me too.

I would have liked to have heard a bit more about the environment, and little less about what Kissinger said and to whom.

Well, guess what? has put together an easy to understand comparison of how the different candidates stand on environmental issues. 

Click here to check it out.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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


Simple Living Can Be A Bit Complicated

by Katy on September 25, 2008 · 2 comments

What do you think of when you hear the term simple living?

A quiet and calm home with few possessions?

Sounds great. But it’s hardly a reality for anyone with a family.

Even if you’re able to keep the possessions to a minimum, the simple and quiet can be a bit of a challenge.

Can you live a simple life and still be a parent?


Simple living is not about sitting quietly reading a book on fen shui while sipping herbal tea.

Simple living is about choosing to not work your life away in exchange for expensive material goods. It’s about cooking healthy meals from scratch, even if prepackaged foods would seem simpler. It’s about volunteering for your community, even if that means taking on responsibilities that can complicate your life. 

It’s about letting kids have unscheduled downtime, which can be loud and messy.

Because we’re frugal, we’re able to work less and have time to do these things that make our lives rich.

So when you come to my house and see that my kitchen is less than perfectly tidy, it’s because I’m actually cooking from scratch. And if you happen to notice that people come and go off our porch picking up soccer equipment, it’s because my husband volunteers as the equipment manager for our soccer league. 

Yes. We are living the simple life. But it’s loud, messy and complicated. 

Which is just how we want it to be.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Spend No Money Challenge — An Update

by Katy on September 24, 2008 · 3 comments


I have a confession to make.

Instead of starting my Spend No Money Challenge this past Monday, I started prematurely on Saturday. I didn’t plan it that way. I simply didn’t make it to any stores over the weekend. I meant to stock up on groceries on Sunday, but it turns out that I actually kind of hate that errand.

So the official start date of the challenge began with just a half loaf of bread and a smallish amount of milk. 


I thought I would bake bread, and had every intention of doing so. But I worked today and traffic was bad. Real bad. So by the time I got home, (and was done oohing and ahhing over the rock wall progress in the backyard) it was time to make dinner.

Should I forgo feeding the family so I can get bread baked?

Sorry kids. There’s nothing for dinner, but look at this wonderful rising bread!

Okay. Probably not such a good idea.

I assembled a lovely dinner of whole wheat spaghetti with free-from-my-mom’s-tenants meatballs and a zucchini marinara sauce. (Shhh . . . the zucchini was a secret, chopped into an almost liquid I’m-not-really-a vegetable form.)

Here’s the thing: my husband is not exactly down with the whole spend no money thing. He was actually pretty annoyed that there were only two crusts of bread for toast this morning.

For the three of them.

In my defense, there were a few boxes of cereal. One even unopened.

In a fit of Non-Consumer defiance, he went to the grocery store and spent around $26 on bread, milk and other staples.

But it’s hard to get too huffy with a man who simply wants to serve his kids some cinnamon toast in the morning.

So yeah, I’m feeling like a bit of a fraud, but I was able to go five days before having to spend any money. And when I did, it was only for very practical foodstuffs. 

Does this mean I should go out and splurge tomorrow? 

No way.

I’m going to keep up the Spend No Money Challenge until the full week is over. There’s no reason to give up good intentions due to a minor slip up. 

Because I can’t in good conscience make my husband and kids share two crusts of bread. I guess I am just a big ol’ softy after all.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

P.S. Thank you to the ever generous Nadine for feeding my ongoing zucchini habit. Keep ’em coming!

P.P.S. Thank you to Lise for the cucumbers.


Let's Play Swapsies At The Library

by Katy on September 23, 2008 · 5 comments


I love my library.

This should come as no surprise to my readers, as I have written about my library numerous times.

I love the staff, the books, the CD audio books and DVD’s.

Yeah. In that order.

You do have to put the new DVD’s on hold though. But with four cards in our family, we could conceivably put 60 movies on hold at a time. There’s almost always a great movie just waiting to be picked up at the library.

This method has been so successful, we’ve been able to cancel our Netflix subscription. Our visits to the neighborhood video store became so infrequent that they now send us free coupons to try and woo us back.

Sorry pal, I’ve moved on to a new love. And he knows how to love me for an extended period.

Three weeks baby, three weeks!

This works fabulously for me since I don’t actually watch television that often. It can often take me a whole three weeks to sit down and watch a movie.

But not always, sometimes I get right on it.

So what’s a Non-Consumer to do?

Do I return the movie early?

A movie that I perhaps had to wait ages for?

Heavens no.

I lend it out.

A few of my friends and I swap our library movies around. For example, my Nancy Drew library movie is currently over at my friend Lise’s house. She knows it’s due Thursday, and she’s proved herself trustworthy in the past. If a person doesn’t return the movie on time, (you know who you are) then they’re cut from the loop.

Yeah, I’m that ruthless.

Nothing pisses me off more than unnecessary library fines. 

This method allows me to be generous without spending a penny. And I’m happy to be the recipient of other people’s generosity and trust.

Because there are a few things you can count on with me. I will get your library materials back on time, and I sure do like me a three-week-long swap.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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


Trash Talkin' Mama

by Katy on September 23, 2008 · 7 comments



Illustration by Jessica Wolk-Stanley

Illustration by Jessica Wolk-Stanley


When I started doing The Compact (buy nothing new) in January 2007, my family of four was putting out a 32-gallon garbage can every week. Sometimes it was half full, but mostly it was crammed to the brim. By stopping all new purchases, I was able to go down to a weekly 20-gallon can. This served not only to save us money, but was also a good reminder to not produce too much waste. 

I wanted to go to the monthly service, but knew that might be a bit too infrequent. We go through a lot of non-recyclable plastic food packaging like bread bags, cereal bags, brown sugar bags, etc. I would say that plastic packaging is easily 75% of our garbage output.

But I was at our local New Seasons Market last week, enjoying a muffin and coffee with a friend when I noticed a woman bring a huge bag of different plastic bags over to the recycling area.

Time stood still.

What is she doing? That stuff isn’t recyclable!

I quickly downed my food and made a beeline over to the recycling area. 

Instead of complicated #2, #5, #1 sorting bins, there were two categories:

Soft plastic.

Hard plastic.

The store was now working with a new vendor that makes plastic boards like those used for benches and decks.

My mind suddenly became a rapid slideshow of all the things I can now recycle.

Bread-tabs, lids, broken fake Legos, milk lids, and oh my god —

All. Those. Bags!

I know the solution is not to be recycling enormous amounts of plastics, but rather to decrease the plastics coming into the home. You already know I’m working on this. 

Today was garbage day. Our can had only two small grocery bags of waste in it. It would have been less, but there was a turkey carcass to contend with. I had also done a basement sweep to scrounge all possible garbage.

I called up the garbage hauler today to switch our service over to a monthly pick-up for our 20-gallon can. It turns out they don’t even offer such a small service, the monthly pick-up is only for a 32-gallon can. Luckily, the recycling is still weekly and yard debris every fortnight.

The savings to switch from a weekly 20-gallon can to a monthly 32-gallon can?

Five dollars per month.

It may not sound like much, but that’s $60 per year. If someone were to hand me $60 right here and now, I’d be feeling mighty fine. I might even add a swagger to my step.

How much garbage is your family generating? Could it be less? 

When you throw something away, where is away? 

Isn’t our away somebody else’s here?

Check out to learn more about minimizing your family’s waste.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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


The Non-Consumer Soccer Mom

by Katy on September 22, 2008 · 9 comments



My sons play soccer. And with that commitment comes the responsibility of being the snack mom for each of the boys at least once per season.

This usually involves bringing individually packaged granola bars and individually packaged drinks for the kids. It’s kind of pricey and the garbage generated has always irked me. And there’s that big grocery bag full of non-recyclable packaging at the end.

Expensive and generating a bunch of garbage? That’s hardly the Non-Consumer way.

Just because snacks are always the same, doesn’t mean I have to follow the same routine.

I decided I would try something different. 

So I made granola bars from scratch and brought a big drink dispenser full of watery lemonade.

The granola bars were super easy. I went onto and chose a recipe I happened to have the ingredients for. Oatmeal, flour, butter, pecans, brown sugar, chocolate chips, etc. Healthy.

The drinks had me stumped at first. What would I use for cups? I couldn’t bring mugs from home, and bringing disposable cups would defeat the purpose of waste-free snacks. Then I realized that all the kids already have a water bottle. So I had the players dump out their water and simply fill them back up with the lemonade. Simple.

Everything was a hit, and the other parents loved that I brought something homemade.

I’m lucky that our soccer league allows us to bring a homemade snack. Not all do. So make sure to check out your league’s rules before you go to the trouble of making something. Also, I already knew we had no nut allergic players on my son’s team.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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


Save A Tree –Opt Out Of Credit Card Offers

by Katy on September 21, 2008 · 5 comments


The easiest way to make a dollar is to not spend a dollar.

(Plus, there’s the added benefit of no commuting, dress-for-success or pricey coffee breaks.)

Conversely, the easiest way to plant a tree is to prevent one being cut down.

The paper used to mail out the billions of annual credit card offers comes from — yes, trees.

The website will let you opt-in, (yes, please choke my mailbox with endless credit card offers) or opt-out, (please stop all credit card offers for either a five year period or your lifetime.) The site explains itself as:

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the Consumer Credit Reporting Companies are permitted to include your name on lists used by creditors or insurers to make firm offers of credit or insurance that are not initiated by you (“Firm Offers”). The FCRA also provides you the right to “Opt-Out”, which prevents Consumer Credit Reporting Companies from providing your credit file information for Firm Offers.

So if you’re tired of the daily deluge of special offers, check out 


I’m going for the lifetime credit card offer ban. Because I have a dream of only receiving mail that makes me happy.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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