I try to minimize my driving, so it’s rare that I ever drive across town (or anywhere, really) for a single errand. So when my son needed a ride to school yesterday, I threw in a few extra N.E. Portland stops to take full advantage of the neighborhood.

First I stopped at my father’s house where I returned some tennis rackets I’d borrowed a loooong time ago. I also spent an hour or so visiting with the family and wandering around the 110-year-old house that I grew up in. I ate some toast made from my father’s homemade bread and drank a cup of tea.

The morning light was throwing rainbows through the beveled glass windows, and my father put one of his needlepoint mazes on the ground to catch the colors.

rainbow maze

My boots also got the rainbow treatment:

rainbow boots

This miniature Eames chair up against the books caught my eye as well:

miniature Eames chair

I then drove the short distance over to The Title Wave used library store. I have a gift certificate that I’ve been slowly whittling down over the past couple of years, so I indulged in a fat stack of decor magazines priced at 50¢ apiece:

used magazines

Not an exciting, brag worthy day by any means, (I also took my older son to the credit union where we converted his youth accounts into adult ones) but still a perfectly low key and relaxed kind of day.

Especially when there are magazines to read.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Spending Less Than Ever

by Katy on November 9, 2014 · 6 comments

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

My family is most definitely a two income family. My husband works full-time in emergency services and I work very part-time (16 hours per week) as a labor and delivery nurse. I’ve been in the same job for over fifteen years, so my hourly wage is generous. We are normally able to cover all of our expenses, while having enough leftover to pay down debt and never feel like we’re holding back on the things we want and need. (The income from the blog pretty much covers the hosting fees and not much else.)

We’re able to have this financial wiggle room because we make multiple frugal choices on a daily basis. We keep the thermostat low, fix instead of replace, cook at home, follow The Compact, (buy only used) and pack school and work lunches from home. However, we’re also spending $220 per month on tutoring for our younger son, which is allowing him to return to a public school language program that he’s been away from for over four years. In other words, we scrimp on the little things in order to afford the big picture stuff.

“I’m sorry honey, we can’t afford your tutoring because we like to eat restaurant food.”

However, my job has been providing me with significantly less work than usual. It’s not unusual for birth rates to fluctuate, but my last three paychecks have been approximately $700 less than usual. I’m used to riding the ups and downs of my irregular income, but this is starting to hurt.

So, have we been starting to rely on credit cards, or are we cutting back on our son’s extra tutoring? No way. We’re using extreme frugality skills to float us through this low point. For example, my sister and her family were in town for Thanksgiving, and instead of hitting up the Goodwills, (our favorite activity) we hung out at home and feasted on leftovers. Instead of providing different fruit choices, I have a bowl of whichever fruit is on sale. (99¢ per pound organic Gala apples) I’m not buying deli meat for school lunches, and instead am making egg salad sandwiches and onigiri from leftover rice. My special me treat yesterday was a stop into a library across town (I was in the neighborhood to pick my son up) and checked out some audio books as well as the newest novel from one of my favorite Chick-lit authors.

I thought about stopping into Trader Joe’s and didn’t, as it is my Achilles heel of impulse puchase-ery. 

Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s? You bet!”

We will not need to dip into savings, nor will we suffer in any way. We’ll put a little less into debt reduction and cut back on most anything extra. And yeah, I’ll be using the $10 off $50 Safeway coupon that ran in today’s newspaper.

Having the ability to happily survive whether the purse strings are tight or loose is an important mindset in life. Hey, this might even inspire me to finally list some stuff on eBay. You never know. :-)

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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A few years ago my friend Sasha knitted me a beautiful scarf. The yarn is buttery soft, and the pretty blue colors brighten up Portland’s oppressive grey weather. It’s really long, which makes it super versatile. I’d been admiring the on-trend look of infinity scarves, so I hatched an idea to sew the scarf’s two ends together to create my own one. I figured if I didn’t end up liking it, I could always pick the stitches out.

So I walked over to our bin of outdoor accessories and dumped everything onto the ground. I looked at the gloves, scarves and hats piled into my entry and I had to laugh. Why? Because both of my sisters knit and crochet, which means that I’m the Imelda Marcos of hats. And the funny thing is that while I truly appreciate my sisters’ knit hats, I actually prefer a store-bought fleece hat that I picked up in 1992. (Look, I even added a cute felted flower to it!)

C’mon, you know the hat. I’m wearing it in every freaking winter photo that’s ever graced this blog.

Recognize it?

Bolt bus

A true dyed-in-the-wool minimalist would choose the single hat they wear and donate the excess. But I’ve never claimed to be a minimalist. I live in a big house and actually have the space to hold onto nine (yes nine!) extra hats. I do get rid of meaningless extra stuff, but these hats? My sisters created them for me, and they are knit with meaning.

Since I was in a semi-decluttering groove, I moved onto the closet, where I pulled out the coats and held them up one by one so my husband could make his own decisions.

Here’s how it went down:

  • “That’s the coat I wear when I’m coaching soccer in the rain.”
  • “That’s the coat I wear when I’m waiting in line for Timbers soccer games.”
  • “That’s the coat I wear for cold weather formal occasions.”
  • “That’s the coat I wear when I’m bicycling in the rain.”
  • “That’s the coat I wear for work.”
  • “That’s the coat I wear for watching soccer indoors.”

And on and on . . .

In the end, my husband let go of two coats and kept thirteen. Thirteen coats! I teased him by saying I was going to start a new TV show called “Coat Hoarders,” and that there would be very sad music that played over his segment.

But here’s the thing. He somehow wears all these coats, and we do have space for them.

Me? I have one rain jacket, one decent fleece coat and one scrappy one for when I’m working in the yard and likely to get smeared in mud. Three coats. And when it’s super cold out, I layer one fleece and the rain coat. And to balance my excessive haberdashery, my husband owns just three winter hats. One from when he was a teenager, and then two Timbers knit hats.

Sadly, I was unable to locate the scarf. I doubt I lost it, which means it’s probably hiding in plain sight. Maybe it’s just hidden in one of my husband’s coats.

Coat Hoarder, coming soon to your local TV station!

Just because I work to keep my house decluttered and free from the excesses of life doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to hold onto the nine hats that my sisters knit for me. There are no rules in simple living, and anyone who tells you otherwise is not living in the real world.

Do you keep an minimum of possessions in some areas, yet hold onto a maximum in other areas? 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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Today I Am . . .

by Katy on November 5, 2014 · 32 comments

Today I am . . . 

  • Happy that my middle-aged near sightedness can be fixed with a $1 pair of Dollar Tree reading glasses.
  • Planning a Safeway grocery trip to take full advantage of their monthly $10-off-$50 coupon. I’ll also ask the neighbors to save their coupon for me.
  • Needing to clean one of my mother’s guest cottages today since I work tomorrow and the new tenants arrive on Friday.
  • Making sure I have a good library audiobook on my phone to listen to while I clean.
  • Pleased with my new Descoware (Le Creuset) trivet that my step mother gave me yesterday. I grew up with it, and since there were two of them, I’ll give the extra one to my older sister. I often have to move the hot tea kettle from the stove to use the good burners on my stove, (the back burners are too small to be useful) so I now have a cool vintage trivet to sit on the counter.
  • Needing to photograph a few items to sell on eBay and Craigslist. “Crap out of the house, money in!”
  • Amazed with how quickly my maple trees lose their leaves this time of year. I just raked the backyard a few days ago, yet the leaves are so thick that the lawn isn’t even visible!
  • Weirdly bummed that Amanda Valentine didn’t win Project Runway, but am moving on and rooting for Portland’s own Michelle Lesniak.
  • Layered up to stay warm. I did turn my heat on a few days ago, but it went right back off again after Portland temperatures came back up again.
  • Enjoying the mental challenge of coming up with great holiday gift ideas while spending almost nothing.
  • Thinking about asking my neighbors if I can have the uncarved pumpkins that sit on their porch. (Gotta freeze enough puree to get us through to next Halloween!)

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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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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