Five Frugal Things

by Katy on May 22, 2023 · 64 comments

  1. We finally had our neighborhood clean up day, which was nothing short of miraculous! I joked to my husband that it’s “my favorite holiday” which is only 49% true. For those not in the know, a “neighborhood cleanup day” involves a huge parking lot with multiple dumpsters for specific obscure recycling as well as straight up garbage. There’s also a pay-what-you-will area for reusable items and a plant exchange. It’s put on by our neighborhood association and a once a year occasion.

    Remember how my husband disassembled our rotten tree house and rebuilt it as a deck? Buy-bye, rotten wood, as well as all the associated rusted hardware. We also took punctured sport balls, cracked wooden baseball bats, styrofoam and an absolutely rusted through barbecue grill. Some of the stuff I walked  the three blocks to the event, but we otherwise filled the back of the seat-free minivan.

  2. We celebrated our son’s 25th birthday with dinner at the house. I invited my mother, step father and son’s out of town friend, and put out a bagel and lox spread, which was a huge hit. I also made a pot of chicken soup to round out the meal, although I was the only one to eat any. I put together a “dirt cake” using Oreos, pudding and gummy worms. (From the Winco bulk section!) Unfortunately, I arrogantly chose to not follow a recipe and it was truly foul. Like scrape the whole damned thing into the compost foul. Oh well, live and learn.

    Our gifts for him were Timbers soccer tickets, plus a coffee theme arrangement which included a Bodum pour-over coffee carafe with reusable filter, coffee grinder, two nice mugs from my eBay inventory, plus a pound of coffee I got for free with a coupon. My sister added a Yeti travel mug, and my parents handed him a crisp $100 bill.

    The evening was a big success, despite my husband having to work. The highlight? when my son asked his grandfather for a good Yiddish phrase and my step dad without missing a beat gifted us with “Geyn hobn shilshl,*” (גיין האָבן שילשל) which means “Go have diarrhea!” Gotta love those Yiddish sayings, they’re always the best!

  3. I thrifted an under-bed wheeled plastic storage container for $4.99, which prompted me to reorganize our bedding. (Don’t worry, I gave it a thorough scrub!) Our 1914 remuddled house doesn’t have a linen closet, so I’m always trying to puzzle out a deliberate and practical way to store our sheets/towels, etc.

    I’m a sucker for organizing paraphernalia, but luckily there’s a steady stream of it at both thrift stores and free piles here in Portland. I may never get my big weird house “perfectly” organized, but I doubt that standard is actually attainable in the first place.

  4. • I complimented a volunteer at the clean-up event on a pretty blue glazed flowerpot and she insisted that I take it for free.
    • I planted some free spider plant babies in the free flowerpot.
    • I bought a bra on eBay for $9.80 (with free shipping!) instead of $48. I have the same bra in a different color, so I’m not worried about trying it on in person.
    • I started rooting some begonia starts from a plant I already own.
    • I donated two blue Ikea bags of miscellaneous stuff (including three sets of sheets!) to Goodwill.
    • I mailed a package to my sister in NYC and used to save on postage.

  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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    * I think this is what he said, the Yiddish might have been slightly different.


Five Frugal Things

by Katy on May 17, 2023 · 73 comments

  1. I went to Goodwill and came across a cardboard box marked “all hoodies $2.99.” I’d been keeping a passive eye out for a new-to-me a zip-front hoodie, so I dug around until I found one in my size. They were all the exact same Target brand and style, which was a dark charcoal color and neutral enough to work with any outfit.

    It’s a far cry from the quality of The Frugal Girl’s beloved $138 American Giant hoodies, but the $2.99 price made it an easier impulse purchase to work into my budget. Sorry Kristen, I had a Goodwill gift card.

  2. I gave away a number of items through my Buy Nothing Group, prompted by a neighbor who asked for a pizza stone. We were given one maybe 15 years ago, and not only did it collect dust, but the behemoth also took up a tremendous amount of space. (Win-win!) Yes, we used it initially, but I don’t actually like working with it and I can’t remember the last time I made pizza from scratch as my daughter can’t eat gluten and pizza grosses me out due to having once eaten most of a pizza that turned out to have a used bandaid baked into the crust. Yes, you read that right.

    I then replied to someone asking for tomato cages and decided to keep the momentum going. I dragged a huge bag of fabric from the attic, which quickly went to someone who sews bags to sell and then sorted through some random stuff and pulled out a collection of dollhouse accessories that were snapped up by a preschool teacher.

    It can be hard to let go of stuff, as each item holds possibility. What if I start being a seamstress or have a kid to the house who’d like to play with dollhouse accessories? Instead, all these items are now back in circulation and that makes me (and my house) happy.

  3. My neighborhood association is hosting a free neighborhood cleanup event this coming Saturday and I’m beyond excited. This is a special opportunity to get rid of bulky items in a responsible manner and I’ve already rolled our rusted out barbecue to the front yard to make it easier to heft into the back of the minivan. I also have my eye on a bucket of bent and rusted hardware from when we disassembled our treehouse last year and I’ve temporarily dedicated a corner of the living room for worn out, broken and useless stuff that’s too crappy to donate to Goodwill.

    Neighborhood cleanup day is my favorite holiday!

  4. • I found a dime on the ground and picked it up even though it was in an awkward spot and the store clerk was staring at me.
    • I spied an unused patio umbrella base at my mom’s house and asked for it. Mine somehow went missing a few years ago, so I was happy to mooch off of her put hers to use.
    • We defrosted and grilled four bison steaks that my Nebraskan aunt gifted us as a thank you for ferrying them around town for my mother’s 80th birthday. I normally don’t like steak, but these were amazing!
    • I took my mother to Kalama Harbor Lodge for a Mother’s Day lunch, which was a splurge, but infinitely better than buying her some unneeded tchotchke. Experiences > stuff.
    • I dropped our election ballots at the library. This action used to save us the price of four stamps, but Oregon ballots now have prepaid postage. I guess I just like going to the library.
    • I read a library copy of Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. I read this Newberry Award winning classic as a kid, but was prompted to revisit it after recently reading an excerpt.
    • My husband and I shared a free Starbucks matcha Frappaccino on his birthday.
    • My friend Lise and I had an IKEA date, where we dropped off battery and lightbulb recycling and then sipped free coffee and caught up on each others’ lives. I also enjoyed one of their $1.15 veggie hotdogs.

  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet.

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 May 8, 2023 · 60 comments

  1. Spring has finally sprung in Portland, Oregon which means our rhododendron bushes and azaleas are in glorious full bloom. I live not too far from the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, which normally costs $5 for admission but is free on Mondays. Take a wild guess which day I prefer to visit.

    So when my next door neighbor and I were planning a get together, it was the perfect Monday destination. It wasn’t raining (always a consideration in Portland!) plus we arrived nice and early, which granted us the opportunity for the very bestest park benches.

    I used to take my kids there a lot when they were little as there were always ducks, geese and even the occasional nasty rat tailed beaver nutria! I even hosted my son’s second birthday party there with a “duckling” theme. Knowing me, it was 100% on a Monday!

  2. My husband and I replaced the footing part on an outdoor wooden lounge chair that had a single disintegrated piece. It was a simple 2″x4″, which made it an easy project. It’s not hugely a brag worthy repair job, as the skill level required was pretty low, but it’s still an accomplishment as it kept a functional item in circulation and out of the landfill.

    I imagine that a lot of people would straight up toss a broken chair, but I feel that there’s an inherent responsibility to maintain and repair your belongings whenever possible. Not only is it a monetary issue, but it’s also an environmental act as overmanufacture of consumer goods is damaging our dear planet.

  3. I brought my mending basket into our living room, where it unceremoniously sat unloved and ignored for at least three weeks. I finally dumped it out as I was sick to death of its’ judgmental stare and spent an evening watching TV and darning nine individual socks.

    The basket also contained my son’s dress shirt with not one but two shattered buttons. (How? Why?) I didn’t have any matching buttons, but my friend Lise is a seamstress and offered to bring over a jar of potential mates. I was able to locate two close matches and quickly sewed them into place. Lise received the password to our Peacock account as a thank you, and my judgmental mending basket is finally out of my eye line.

  4. • I read library copies of Growing Up Poor: A Literary Anthology and started reading $2 Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.
    • I dug up overgrown plants from my garden to fill spots in undergrown areas.
    • I mailed a birthday card to my cousin’s aunt as they were trying to arrange for her to receive 85 cards for her 85th birthday. I didn’t have a birthday specific card, so I used a pretty thrifted Marimekko postcard that I already had on hand.
    • I set two perfectly good empty plastic gas cans on the curb with “free” signs. We’d somehow accumulated three cans, (Again . . . How? Why?) which was wholly unnecessary as we don’t own any gas powered machines and I’ve never once run out of gas. They were nabbed by morning.

  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet.

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 May 1, 2023 · 59 comments

  1. • I bought a $3.99 pot of basil at Trader Joe’s a couple weeks ago only to bring it home and find it covered in aphids. I kept forgetting to bring it back to the store, but finally explained the issue to an employee who let me take a new one for free.

    • My next door neighbor gave me a glazed outdoor flower pot, which now contains basil plants courtesy of Trader Joe’s. I love how a single pot of basil contains easily a dozen individual plants.

    • I went for an evening walk with my son and brought home a shoe organizing system that someone put out on their curb. Sure, it was impressively dusty, but it cleaned up perfectly in the dishwasher. I wasn’t sure how to best utilize it, so for now it holds the shoes I currently have up for sale on eBay.

    • I spent an hour or two tidying and rearranging my backyard as Portland finally received a couple sunny days in a row. I filled multiple flower pots with plants that I’d rooted or transplanted from other areas. The garden is ready for warm weather entertaining despite me spending just $3.99 on the basil.

  2. I watched a couple episodes of Peacock’s The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, which is less morbid than it sounds. Based on the book by the same name, it’s essentially a makeover show with an emphasis on winnowing down one’s belongings so they aren’t a burden to your grieving loved ones. It’s produced and narrated by Amy Poehler, which pretty much guarantees it to be enjoyable.

    There was one quote that stuck in my head. The featured woman’s mother had assertively given her more stuff than her home could reasonably hold in the name of family legacy. It was choking her family and didn’t reflect her own personal style. Cut to the end where the house is no longer cluttered and the woman says:

    “I realize that my life is the inheritance, not the stuff.” 

    I quickly wrote this down and started thinking about how so many of us are overburdened with family stuff. What makes a person special is not the things they bought throughout their life, but who they were as a person. I would hate to think that my kids feel the need to keep everything I ever put in my house simply because I once used it. Holding onto to random stuff doesn’t preserve the memories of a loved one. The memories are to cherish, whether or not you cling to your loved one’s belongings.

  3. My son continues to do his meal prep for the week in our well appointed kitchen, which invariably ends with us as taste testers. This week was pulled pork, Caprese pasta salad and breakfast burritos. No complaints here!

  4. This last “frugal thing” is actually from my mother, but I’m going to include it anyway. She sold her last “guest cottage” last year, which was a small and awkwardly designed house directly next door to her own home. The new owners are tearing it down to build anew, and from all accounts sound like a lovely family.

    However . . . the old house had a beautifully designed garden which was sure to be trampled by the construction crew, so my mother (with full permission from the new owners) put the word out through her Buy Nothing group for free u-dig plants and boy-o-boy did people respond!

    My mother says that there’s still a couple plants left, but it sounds like hundreds of plants, bushes and even some small trees found new homes; and will make her extended neighborhood that much prettier.

  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet.

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 April 28, 2023 · 68 comments

  1. My mother found a box of stuff that I stashed in her basement when I left college in 1988. Many of the contents were easy straight-to-garbage decisions, (which I appreciated) but I did choose to keep a few items, most notably my age ten Nancy Drew Diary from when we lived in London.

    Please enjoy an excerpt:

    January 3, 1979

    Dear Diary,

    Today I saw a big brown thing out in the snow, so I asked daddy where the binoculars were and he said they were in the green cupboard so I got them and put them up to my eyes and saw in between two cars what I thought was a rabbit or a cat. So I got on my warm clothes for snow and new boots and went outside. Outside it looked remarkably like a bird but when up close was a big cat shaped, dirty, ugly, awful lump of snow, much to my relief as better to be snow than an animal dead!

    These are important memories. Historians take note!

  2. I helped my son put together a couple eBay listings for some of his Lego minifigures. One already sold for $140 and I imagine that the others will also sell in a timely manner. I’ve helped my kids to sell their unwanted stuff through the years and I hope that this skill stays with them as it’s a handy way to scrape together a nice chunk of change.

    I also sold a puppet, a hand crocheted wool afghan and a landline telephone. None of these were high dollar sales, but I was still happy to send them on their merry way.

  3. I’ve been sick with a horrific cold for the last five (six?) days, which is why this blog post is so late. (And boring.) Add in that I sustained a injury by hitting my head really hard on the open medicine cabinet door, (I’d crouched down to pick up a dirty sock)  and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I’m deep into a Met Gala level pity party, which means I have watched a tremendous amount of television and have a couple recommendations:

    Jury Duty on FreeVee. Like The Truman Show but better. So so so good! FreeVee is a free streaming service, so you have no excuse not to not watch it. WATCH IT!
    Vengeance, which I think I watched through my sister’s Prime Video account. This movie is not what you think it is, but in a good way.

  4. • I gave away a pair of speciality lightbulbs and some cute enamelware dishes from my box-o-stuff through the magic of my Buy Nothing Group.
    • I was too sick to go to the Darcelle XV Celebration of Life, so I lay on the couch and watched the live stream on YouTube.
    • I’ve been too sick to set foot in a grocery store in over a week, which turns out to be an extremely frugal practice.

  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet or pay out a $787.5 million settlement.

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 April 17, 2023 · 81 comments

  1. I upcycled a cute vintage fishing rod rack to hang aprons in the kitchen. We’ve always draped aprons over the pantry door, which meant the door never closed properly. Not really an issue, but it’s nice to finally have a designated spot for them. Mind you, these aprons are in frequent rotation as I cook from scratch, which can be a messy endeavor.

    I initially photographed the $3.99 “Rod Rack” for my Instagram account, as I thought the vintage graphics were adorable. Later I regretted leaving it behind when a few of my followers suggested that it could be upcycled. I made a beeline back to Goodwill the next morning and found it hadn’t been sold.

    I did remove a wooden piece and wipe a bit of extra stain over the bottom, but that took all of five minutes. I already had a couple brass hooks from a long ago free pile, which meant there was no further expense.

    I’m really happy with how it turned out!

  2. My husband and I splurged on a single night at Kalama Harbor Lodge, which is located along the Columbia river. Although it’s only an hour from Portland, it still felt like we were escaping the gloom that weighs on us Pacific Northwesterners this time of year. The rain, she never ends.

    Check in time was 3 P.M., but we left a couple hours early so we could poke through Vancouver, Washington thrift shops along the way. I didn’t find anything worth picking up, but my husband nabbed a Carhartt flannel jacket, which quickly became one of his favorite belongings! We also stopped into Albertson’s for snacky lunch items as I still had some money left on a $150 gift card I earned from participating in a focus group.

    Our “splurge” included both dinner and breakfast at the lodge, plus we paid a bit extra for a balcony facing the river. Sure it was just as dark and rainy as home, but our room included a view of sea lions, rabbits and hummingbirds.

    It really was the perfect mini-break as the travel to and from was next to nothing, yet still gave us a break from our routine.

  3. I curb picked a $550 Kitchenaid mixer, which included a bag of accessory pieces! It may need a tune up, but my husband replaced a gear and re-lubed one we resold a few years ago, so I’m confident that we can get this one to perfect working order. I already own a smaller Kitchenaid mixer, so I’ll be selling this one.

  4. • I cooked black beans in the instant pot for taquitos, which is the cheapest and yummiest meal. I added a couple shakes of taco seasoning, which I buy in bulk at Winco.
    • My husband and I did our taxes and will be getting both state and federal refunds. Apparently we’re at “medium risk” of being audited as my business (the blog) lost money in 2022. (Remember how there were no advertisements for most of last year?) I have to pay for blog hosting, domain registration and replaced my outdated 2008 laptop last summer. I could easily monitize the blog through sponsored posts and Amazon referral links, but doing so would be antithetical to my non-consumer message.
    • I got tickets for Darcelle XV’s, celebration of life. (I was willing to buy tickets, but they turned out to be free.) For those not in the know, 92-year-old Darcelle was a beloved drag queen and nightclub owner. My mother was close with Darcelle and even worked there as a cocktail waitress when I was in high school. You can read my mother’s reprinted 1975 article titled “That’s No Lady, That’s Darcelle” as well as her most recent essay titled “Darcelle and Me.”

    And yes, the baby in that photo is my sweet daughter.

  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet.

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 April 10, 2023 · 77 comments

  1. We received a notice that electrical work in the area was going to result in up to five hours without electricity. I didn’t want our food to go bad, so I brought up a cooler and filled it with ice packs and any food we might need throughout the day. I also taped the refrigerator shut to ward against anyone (me) mindlessly opening the doors. We ate the frozen Safeway pizza that I picked up for free last week, plus a Trader Joe’s salad kit for dinner. It would have easy to rationalize eating out, but I prefer to save that for special occasions.

    Nothing frugal about letting food go to waste.

  2. I bought a Variera Ikea storage bin at Goodwill for $1.99, (normally $4.99) which served as the catalyst to reorganize our cluttered refrigerator. I’d been wanting to corral some “like items” into bins, so this was a perfect find. It’s now holding cheeses and I’ll start to keep an eye out for additional ones to continue this project. Ikea items are mass produced enough that I can’t even count how many times I’ve come across this exact item while thrifting.

    I know I can pop over to Ikea and buy as many as I need, (two, I think I need two more) but overmanufacture of consumer goods is killing our planet, so I choose used over new whenever I can.

  3. I sold:

    • A vintage Taylor & Ng cat food bowl. I paid $4.99 and sold it for $50.
    • That’s it. That’s all I sold.

  4. • I iced a cake with a 25¢ can of frosting that I picked up after the 4th of July holiday.
    • I’ve been scanning all my receipts into the Fetch and Ibotta apps to earn cash back.
    • I finished reading the library book I started last week and even returned books on time even though my library system no longer charges late fees.
    • I bought my son a $5.45 Starbucks drink for just $2 at Safeway, as I’d downloaded a Just 4U coupon on their app.
    • I used a Franz Bakery Outlet punch card from a friend to buy five loaves of bread.
    • My husband opened a jar of marinara sauce even through there were already two open jars in the fridge. (Grumble, grumble, sigh . . . ) I bought a half pound of ground beef and upgraded two of the jars with some extra herbs and spices and was able to serve a slightly fancier pasta meal to mostly use up any sauce before it went bad.
    • My daughter brought me some crumbled but otherwise delicious cookies from her schwanky grocery store.
    • I donated an enormous box of clothing and miscellaneous stuff from my adult daughter’s old bedroom. I’m working to turn her room back into usable space, which it hasn’t been since she took all her furniture to her apartment when she moved out last year. There’s no deadline for this project, so the pace is relaxed which is good as I’m looking to not spend any more money than necessary.

  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet.

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 April 3, 2023 · 87 comments

  1. I got a “new” tall bookshelf from my Buy Nothing Group for my daughter’s old bedroom. This was a much needed item as her room is littered with her old stuff, yet there’s almost not enough furniture to contain it.

    This newest piece is part of my snail’s pace project to build her old bedroom back into a functional (and hopefully attractive) space instead of the junk room that it currently is. Hopefully this is a light at the end of tunnel, as all that’s left to source are a dresser and a rug.

    She and I are slowly but surely going through all her stuff and are compiling quite the impressive Goodwill donation box. I will get this room back in order!

  2. My husband and I are planning a night away from Portland at a Columbia River lodge that’s only an hour out of town. I’m a big fan of spending a single night away from home as it’s not only cheaper, but also simpler in terms of cat sitting and such. We’re lucky here in Portland, as we’re close to the Pacific Ocean as well as Mt. Hood and other Pacific Northwest attractions.

    Our thirtieth anniversary is coming up this summer and we’re talking about maybe going up to Vancouver, Canada for a visit. Of course, that would be for more than one night. I’m actually flirting with the idea of an Alaskan cruise, but that would take some convincing on my husband’s part.

  3. • I remembered to use a free spinach coupon during the narrow dates when it was valid.
    • I’m reading a library copy of Immortality: A Love Story, by Dana Schwartz.
    • I drove to Costco for cat litter and picked up three four-packs, which each had a $4.10 rebate. Cat litter is the least interesting way to spend money, so I might as well be as strategic with it as possible.
    • I got a free Just 4U frozen pizza through the Safeway app. Future Katy is going to be very happy when she remembers that it’s in the freezer!
    • I gave away an adorable vintage corner medicine cabinet through my Buy Nothing Group. I curb picked it a couple years ago with full intention of figuring out a way to use it, but finally decided to move it along to a new home.
    • I’m continuing to spend the Safeway gift cards that earned from participating in a study a few weeks ago.
    • My neighbor gave me a dozen eggs from her produce delivery, as they’d been out of town and didn’t need so many.

  4. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet.

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 March 27, 2023 · 76 comments

  1. I sold:

    • A Donner party monument brass bookmark. I paid a few pennies (pay-by-the-pound Goodwill, baby!) and sold it for $20.50.

    • A trio of Cutco kitchen utensils. I paid $6.99 and sold them for $50.

    My stupid foot (plantar fibroma) keeps me from doing anything that requires me to walk or even be on my feet more than necessary, so I’m rarely thrifting these days.

  2. My husband and I took a day trip up the Columbia Gorge to Hood River. We stopped on the way to grab free IKEA coffees and then stare up at Multnomah Falls for a few minutes. (I always stop at Multnomah Falls as it’s free and I love how it changes throughout the seasons.) We then enjoyed lunch at a brewery overlooking the Columbia river and kept the bill under control by drinking water. I chose the salmon chowder, which was delicious and filling, yet $7 less than my husband’s cheeseburger. My secret skill is that I’m wickedly skilled as finding the best choices off a menu.

  3. • I took advantage of more Safeway loss leaders, specifically 99¢/pound chicken breasts, 25¢ Totino’s pizza rolls, (I almost didn’t nab these as they’re straight up junk food) 97¢ half-gallons of milk and 99¢ packets of sliced Swiss cheese. I stupidly forgot to use the Safeway gifts cards that I earned from participating in a study.

    I froze half the chicken and cooked up the rest in the instant pot to be used in recipes. So far I’ve made a huge pot of chicken soup and assembled what I need to make a couple pans of enchiladas for the freezer.

  4. • I sewed a name patch onto a uniform jacket for my husband. He got this jacket for free from a former co-worker who no longer needed it as he’d moved onto a new job.
    • Our minivan suddenly demanded a new battery and alternator. My husband bought the battery and installed it himself, but he farmed out the alternator replacement to a mechanic friend who does favors for friends. We paid, but it was significantly less than it would have been with our regular mechanic. To be specific, we paid $370 total for everything instead of the approximate $1000 it would have otherwise cost.
    • I turned off the furnace and opened windows on a couple of warm days. This is the annoying time of year when we either get snow flurries or sunny days.

  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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Good Things Come To Those Who Mooch

by Katy on March 23, 2023 · 36 comments

Please enjoy this reprint of a previously published post.

I have a method for getting great stuff. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

I simply ask people for things that seem to be on their way to the landfill.

For example:

There’s a mini-mall a few blocks up the road that is getting a fancy-schmancy overhaul. In the 12 years we’ve owned our house, this property has been home to a series of unsuccessful Asian restaurants, laundromats, a rather seedy convenience store and a pizza joint. It’s always been poorly kept up, with lots of litter blowing around and a general air of neglect.

However, there’s always been a small, oddly kept up garden planted with pretty flowers and even a lovely pear tree. It stood out as an oasis of hope among the vista of plastic bags and cigarette butts.

With the hubbub of construction, the plants were getting sadly trampled. They were certainly no longer getting watered.

I needed to save those plants!

Cycling by yesterday, I noticed a number of people at the site and swerved my bike over.

Taking a deep breath, I asked one of the workers if I could dig up the plants. He pointed out the new owner of the complex. He told me to take all I liked. He didn’t care.

So yesterday evening I grabbed a couple of five-gallon buckets, a shovel and my ever-present Discman with the audio book of Jasper Fforde’s Something Rotten. (I’m addicted to audio books from my local library — it’s the only way I get any fiction read.)

My husband’s parting shot: “When the police give you one phone call, make it your mom.”

Thanks. Good to know.

I started with the gladiolas, and moved along to the long thin yellow iris I’ve always thought were so much prettier than the squat purple freebies lining the north side of my house.

At that point a man came along and asked if I was the new landscaper for the development. Defensively, I explained that the owner had given me permission to dig up the plants. It turns out he’s the next-door neighbor who had originally put in the garden. His wife then joined us and was over the moon that her plants were not going to waste. She also pointed out where she’d planted an expensive variety of daffodils. Cool.

(Whew! Not going to have to make that one phone call after all.)

I was only able to dig up maybe one-tenth of what was there. But I plan on going back in a day or two to salvage more of the iris for my ongoing backyard project.

Here’s the thing: I’m sure many people have walked by this spot and noticed the trampled flowers. But I was the only person to actually talk to the owner and get permission to salvage them. My next-door neighbor mentioned she had been lusting after the gladiolas herself.

Yes, it’s hard to overcome one’s natural shyness. It’s kind of embarrassing to ask someone to simply give you their stuff.

What’s the worst that can happen?

The person says no.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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