Posted by Annie Korzen
Everyday food preparation is a rushed, harried, nerve-wracking chore that consumes time I’d rather spend at something more profitable, like listing my garage sale finds in eBay. I would gladly pay extra for a house without a kitchen. You know that show, Thirty Minute Meals? Who’s got thirty minutes? (For someone who resents cooking, I do spend a lot of time watching The Food Network. Go figure.)
But we can’t eat out every night – or so Benni claims – so I try to create meals that are quick, cheap, and healthy. The good news is that the most beneficial foods are also the least expensive. A curried tofu-veggie stir-fry costs a lot less than a steak, and doesn’t clog your arteries like the meat-and-potato diet I grew up with. The same goes for the linguine with pesto sauce that I make from my home-grown basil. Here are some lazy-ass recipes from my I’D RATHER NOT BE COOKING files.
• FOOLPROOF GUACAMOLE: Mash an avocado with a container of fresh salsa.
• SPICY SHRIMP APPETIZER: Mix some ready-cooked shrimp with a container of fresh salsa.
• MEAT LOAF ACAPULCO: Mix a pound of ground turkey with a container of fresh salsa.
• Plus some suggestions from slothful friends.
• GIL’S GARBAGE GAZPACHO: Take yesterday’s leftover salad and throw it in the food processer with a can of plum tomatoes. (I would add some fresh salsa.)
• MICHAEL’S ELEGANT FROZEN DESSERT: Mix some vanilla frozen yogurt in the processer with a ripe papaya (or mango, or pineapple). Add a little rum, and serve in wine glasses. (Skip the salsa in this one.)
Whatever I prepare, I make sure there’s enough for a few days. That’s why cole slaw is my salad of choice: it’s got staying power
• I try to eat local and organic, which can be costly if you shop at classy emporiums like Whole Foods. I resent paying seven dollars for a pound of cherries
• Trader Joe’s is a much better deal, but there’s an awful lot of plastic packaging which means (a) you’re messing up the environment, and (b) you’re forced to buy four artichokes when you only need two. I prefer to buy my produce piece by piece, as I need it. This is not the American way. I once asked my neighborhood greengrocer for two shallots. He joked, “Two shallots? You expecting company?”
• Farmers Markets have glorious fruits and veggies: fresh and cheap. Of course, the freshest and cheapest is the home-grown stuff. Even city people can do a little gardening: I just visited a photographer in New York who had trays of herbs on her fire-escape.
• My friends Laura and Guillaume are big meat-eaters, but they want to avoid the toxic chemically-grown supermarket stuff. They found a nearby farm where the moo-moos live natural, happy lives. Half a beef was about $850 - including butchering. They had meat for about two years.
Asian markets are the best places to buy fish. The product is fresher than fresh, and the prices are rock-bottom. Some of these places also sell live fowl, but that’s a little too fresh for me.
I don’t do those cavernous warehouse stores like Costco – they don’t suit my lifestyle. Fifty pounds of sugar for twenty-two bucks may be a good deal, but I will probably be in the ground before I use fifty pounds of sugar.
I did score a two-pound jar of mango chutney for $6.89, at Smart and Final. Unfortunately, it had the thick, glutinous consistency of cheap jam.
I am, however, a big fan of the Ninety-Nine Cent Stores. I have found organic cauliflower and Silver Palate Pasta Sauces for – you guessed it – 99 cents. Plus Italian pasta at two-for-a-dollar. When you come across a great deal here, better buy as much as you can squirrel away: it may not be there next week. I learned this the hard way, when they stopped carrying those round cardboard boxes of triangular cheese snacks that cost four bucks in the supermarket.
Here’s a cheapo healthy easy yummy dinner I made recently.
ROTINI WITH CAULIFLOWER AND BREADCRUMBS
Cook small pieces of cauliflower together with the pasta.
In a separate skillet, heat some olive oil and sauté
Chopped sundried tomatoes
(A few anchovies – if you like)
Coarse bread crumbs – which I make myself from stale bread.
Drain the pasta and cauliflower, add to the skillet, and mix in with the other ingredients.
Grate some Parmigiana cheese over the whole beautiful mess.
I threw together a green salad, and had a fab dinner for four. Total cost was about seven bucks since I had gotten most of the ingredients at the Ninety-Nine Cent Store.
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July 25, 2011 | 11:25 am
Posted by Annie Korzen
Waffle irons, microwaves and toaster-ovens are among the many appliances that can be picked up on the cheap at yard sales, thrift stores, etc. I bought two George Foreman grills for two bucks each at a church rummage sale. We then invited a gaggle of visiting Danish relatives over for a panini party. Everyone selected their own combo of cold cuts, cheese, veggies, and dressings for a custom-made grilled sandwich. They all loved it - especially the little kids, who got a big kick out of being in charge of their own creations. And I fed a dozen people wihout doing any cooking – always a plus for my lazy-ass self.
On those rare occasions when I do some serious cooking, I use my food processor which was purchased at an estate sale for five dollars several years ago.
I’m still on the lookout for an espresso machine for family visits. My Danish relatives are caffeine fiends and require at least five cups of joe every day.
Our 1927 duplex is not insulated, so the rooms are cold and drafty. If I turn on the central heating system, it reaches jungle temperature after ten minutes and as soon as I turn it off, it’s chilly again. I solved this dilemma by picking up small space heaters for a few bucks at thrift shops. They warm the room I’m in without blasting wasteful heat through the rest of the house. Climate control is not an issue for my husband, Benni. He has the interior thermostat of a lizard and never seems to need heat or air-conditioning. Lucky guy!
July 20, 2011 | 1:02 am
Posted by Annie Korzen
As with any addiction, there came a time when my bargain-shopping pleasure turned to pain. Every closet, shelf, and drawer in the house was overflowing with valuable stuff that was never used. I don’t wear the designer clothing because I live in sweatpants. I don’t use the crystal salt cellars because I rarely entertain. I don’t have the time: I’m much too busy buying crystal salt cellars. After a family intervention, I agreed to go cold turkey. I wouldn’t give up treasure hunting, but I would turn my compulsion into a business. I started selling my goodies: some on eBay, some to resale shops, some to private dealers.
It was fun to have a little cottage industry but, like all entrepreneurs, I dreamed of The Big Score: the costume person from a film studio who would be My Main Buyer. This person would appreciate my exquisite taste and, since they were paying with someone else’s dime, would never haggle over the cost. I would sit in the audience and think, “That’s my Escada blazer! That’s my Weiss necklace!”
And so it came to pass. Twice a year we have a huge yard sale at rock bottom prices to unload the surplus goods. At my last sale, a young woman named Laura S. showed up and announced that she was doing wardrobe for a Dreamworks movie. Just like in my fantasy, Laura gushed over my fabulous taste, and phoned her assistant to check the sizes of various actors. She bought Anna Sui and Vivienne Tam and Armani. She bought a Coach bag and some vintage jewelry. She was in a hurry to get back to the set, so I took a check for $400. She promised to come over every month to check out my inventory. My dream had come true: I was in business with Steven Spielberg!
The check bounced. It wasn’t just an oversight: the account had been closed for several months. I called Dreamworks and asked for Laura S. No such person. “Are you sure? She’s doing wardrobe on Santa Clause 3.” No, that film was not Dreamworks, it was Disney. I called Disney and learned that the movie had wrapped three months ago. Laura S. was a total fraud. The assistant she talked to was probably a dial tone. Laura played on my greed, my vanity, and my pathetic eagerness to be a professional shopper for the movies.
My miracle had turned into a “be careful what you wish for” fable. It served me right, because as a secular cynic, I ought to know that miracles do not happen: just random events that usually end badly. I was, of course, furious, but I was also fascinated by the psychopathology at work here. If you’re a skilled con artist, why steal used goods from middle-aged yentas at yard sales? Whatever happened to professional standards? Even criminals should aim high.
I started leaving phone messages for Laura, sometimes several in one day. No reply, of course. We drove to the address on the check. No such person, of course. For many months to come, I was obsessed with revenge fantasies. I thought of all the things I would say and do to Laura S. if I ever ran into her: how I would make a loud scene in public and force her to pay me back.
And so it came to pass. I walked into a lingerie shop not far from home, and there, writing out a check on the same phony checkbook, was Laura S.! Just like I had imagined, I yelled to the owner, “Don’t take that check! She’s a con artist!” Laura looked up and said, just as sweet as could be, “Oh, I’m so glad I found you! I’ve been looking all over for you! I owe you money!” Yeah, right.
My fantasy script called for me to escort her to a nearby ATM machine, which I did. As she handed me the cash, she said, “I know you don’t believe me, but I’m really not a bad person.” “Laura, everything you told me was a lie.” “No, I’m exactly what I said. I’m a film studio executive.” Poor dear: if she had only put her mind to it, she probably could have been: she had all the qualifications.
Since the Laura debacle, I actually have started selling to the studios. My greatest coup has been supplying vintage fashion to Mad Men. So far, the checks have all cleared.
July 18, 2011 | 7:54 pm
Posted by Annie Korzen
There are all kinds of thrifty living sites out there.
www.moneysavingmom.com is one of many mommyblogs that list supermarket and drugstore coupons and retail discounts. I buy very little processed food, so a lot of this packaged, chemicalized stuff is of no interest to me. I might want the free toothpaste, but I’m afraid that it would put me on some ghoulish marketing list leading to spam hell. I might, however, consider the 2 for 1 Subway deal, since Subway is my fast food of choice.
DEALCATCHER: NOT YOUR MOTHER’S COUPONS
So many coupon sites are restricted to small stuff like mac ‘n cheese, diapers, and pet food. BORING! www.Dealcatcher.com is a great antidote to all that. They point you to online coupons, products, sales, reviews, and rebates on a variety of items including electronics, home appliances, computers, clothing, housewares, and even groceries for the mac ‘n cheese crowd. The site is updated throughout the day.
Here are some past offerings:
A 2-2/3-cubic-foot Haier compact refrigerator/freezer combo for $93.54 at Amazon after $129 savings. Free Shipping.
Dell Inspiron 13 13.3-inch Laptop with Pentium Dual Core, 3GB Memory, 250GB HD, Slot DVD Burner + $15 Dell GiftCard costs $399. Original price was $619
Oakley Vault Felon Sunglasses $50. Reduced from $150.
There’s a cool frugalista site called www.RubbingNickels.com. I like them because they gave my book a great review. I also like them because they list a variety of useful cheapo deals on travel, entertainment, eco-living and all that good stuff.
I also like their motto: “Cutting back while moving forward.”
One site they wrote about is called www.DinnerGarden.org This is an organization that provides people and community groups with free vegetable seeds and growing tips for cheap gardening in whatever space they have available: patios, backyards, schoolyards, community lots, and church lawns. “They envision a nation where front lawns, empty lots, medians, parks, schools, churches, and community centers devote space to fruit and vegetable gardens.” Sounds good to me.
July 13, 2011 | 1:04 pm
Posted by Annie Korzen
I hate to go shopping when I need something. I don’t enjoy having to race against a deadline to find the right thing at the right price. I prefer to buy stuff when I spot a good deal, and then I have it when I need it.
My son was wandering through the mall a few weeks ago, not looking for anything in particular. He noticed that Macy’s had a one-day special: a rack of men’s pants for ten dollars each. Being his mother’s son, he happily snatched up four pairs.
My friend Jay regularly checks the clearance sections at Target. The merchandise in these areas goes from 30% to 50% to 75% off, based on how long it’s been sitting there. He knew I needed a small space heater and bought me a box of two for $14.95. He found a large patio table for himself for seventy bucks which had originally retailed for almost $300. He’s also gotten fountains and other garden accessories at rock-bottom prices.
Jay also trawls for specials in the grocery aisles. Last week he scored 8 boxes of cereal for a buck. That’s a lotta corn flakes!
Through a combo of Radio Shack and Amazon, Jay got four Tivo units and two one-year subscriptions for a pittance. He kept some and sold some. He finds a lot of these electronics deals on http://www.fatwallet.com.
When I needed a smart phone, Jay found an AT&T deal on Amazon. I paid $50 for my HTC Aria and then was not happy with certain elements so I complained to customer service and got a $30 credit. I’m not great with math, but even I can do the numbers here. Twenty bucks for a phone. Not too shabby.
July 11, 2011 | 12:28 pm
Posted by Annie Korzen
You’d be surprised how many store owners are open to friendly haggling. For starters, you can always ask for a discount if you’re paying cash, or if you’re buying multiple items. My Danish brother-in-law Søren is a champion negotiator who gets markdowns in clothing boutiques, furniture and appliance stores - even hotels.
He does this by being charming, sincere and civil, and by believing that it never hurts to ask. We were on vacation in Italy, and wandered into an eyeglass store. Søren asked to see a fabulous pair of designer shades, but he wasn’t comfortable with the price.
He pointed out, in a pleasant way, that this was October, so the season was over - plus he offered to pay cash. He succeeded in getting a lower price. Use your judgement, though. All the charisma in the world isn’t going to lower the price at the gas pump.
One friend fell in love with a cocktail dress at Bloomingdale’s, but it was more than she wanted to pay. She politely asked the salesgirl to bring over the manager, who agreed to offer a 20% discount.
Some people are constitutionally unable to haggle. My friend Kim actually said to the flea-market vendor, “Only ten dollars for that crystal vase? Oh, no, I feel I should give you twenty.” Kim is no longer allowed to come shopping with me – but she is very welcome to be a customer at my own yard sales.
July 7, 2011 | 12:04 pm
Posted by Annie Korzen
A lot of people are embarrassed to question the price of something because they’re afraid of looking Cheap. But there’s a big difference between being Cheap and Frugal. There’s nothing shameful in trying to get the best price for something, but it is evil to have your house guests suffocate because you refuse to turn on the air conditioning.
Negotiating a price is not always about money. There are often more personal elements at play. My friend Laura was house-hunting and found the place of her dreams: a sprawling ‘60s home on a hill in Glendale with a panoramic view. The house was not in great condition, but Laura is passionate about mid-century architecture. The competing buyers saw it as a teardown. Laura promised the elderly woman seller that she would respect the integrity of the design, and gradually restore it to its original glory. She got the house even though the other offers were higher than hers.
I buy so much stuff that I’m forced to have a ginormous yard sale twice a year, with hundreds of tasty items. It’s a great opportunity to study people’s bargaining skills. Here are some approaches I do not recommend.
“How much? That’s ridiculous. I could get it cheaper at K-Mart.”
“Thirty dollars? I’ll give you five.”
“I can’t pay ten dollars. Here’s one-fifty, but my money is special. It’ll bring you good luck.”
“Twenty dollars? Oh gee, I only have eight bucks with me. Will that do”?
These bozos are being insulting, aggressive, and manipulative. Why would I want to give them a break? Here are some techniques that do work:
“You have such cool stuff. If I buy a lot, can you give me something off?”
“That’s a fair price, but it’s a little high for me. Any chance you could do better?”
“I love your hair!”
That last one gets me every time.
It helps to give the seller some insight into who you are. I happen to have a soft spot for teachers. They are undervalued and underpaid for the important work they do. A pleasant young women at my sale said “How much for the big box of construction paper and charcoals? I teach special needs kids and they love crafts projects.” I gave it to her for free, and she’s become one of my regular customers. She always buys clothing for herself, and I pick up paper and art supplies throughout the year to donate to her class.
July 5, 2011 | 11:50 am
Posted by Annie Korzen
I had a buzzing in my ears, and the doctor gave me a prescription for a nasal spray. When the pharmacist told me it would cost $135, I was one flabbergasted frugalista! This was not a medicine that the doctor guaranteed would cure me. It was more a case of ‘Try this. It might help.” I didn’t find that reassuring enough to make a three-figure investment.
The sympathetic pharmacist confided that he orders his mother’s medications from Canada from Jan Drugs. www.jandrugs.com I contacted them and their price was around $90, as was my Medco prescription plan. I was getting crankier and crankier, and finally decided to call the doctor to see if there were any other options. The nurse who picked up was as outraged as I was, and he kindly offered to put aside some free samples for me.
So I went from $135 to zero. Not bad, don’t you think? I guess it never hurts to ask. Especially since the spray didn’t help. I eventually got rid of the tinnitus by seeing a hypnotist.