Posted by Annie Korzen
One of the most disturbing moments in any film is at the end of Titanic when Gloria Stuart flings the priceless blue diamond necklace into the water. I know we’re supposed to be moved by that extravagant, romantic gesture: Instead - thriftaholic that I am - I am horrified by the reckless wastefulness. So you can imagine how challenging it is for someone like me to live in our “disposable” culture. Here are just a few of my pet peeves.
• Throw-away cigarette lighters, which were invented by Satan.
• You are given a tall glass of water in a restaurant before asking for it, and it is surreptitiously refilled all night long – even in drought-prone places like Los Angeles.
• Theater programs are glanced at once, then thrown in the trash. (I always return mine to the usher.)
• You buy five pairs of socks, and come home with five useless plastic hanger/hook gizmos which go right into the garbage – unless you happen to have a hanging-sock closet.
• I’d like to do away with paper plates, paper napkins, and plastic utensils. It’s cheaper, greener, and a lot more inviting to use pretty dishes, flatware, and linens that you pick up at tag sales. Plus, wine tastes a lot better in a real glass than in a paper or plastic cup – even to my underdeveloped palate. True, you have to wash everything afterwards, but that’s what spouses, partners, kids, and house guests are for.
RUNNING HOT AND COLD
Excessive climate control makes me nuts. I resent having to bring a sweater to the movies in July, and then sweltering in a department store in December. It’s time to scale back on these not-so-comfortable “comforts.” I will admit I feel differently if I’m in a stifling heat wave in France. Europeans think air-conditioning is something only used by “spoiled Americans.” They even sneered when I asked for some ice in my drink. Let me tell you something, Mr. Fancypants Euro-man: on a scorching summer day, a lukewarm Campari and soda doesn’t really do the trick!
Hotels can be criminally wasteful.
• Every towel is washed, bleached, and dried after one day’s use.
• The air-conditioning is left on all day, even in empty rooms.
• Empty mini-fridges are running constantly
• A raging waterfall blasts out of the shower.
The worst offenders are in Vegas. I love Steve Wynn, and I love the over-the-top fabulousness of his hotels, but I think his next venture should be an eco-friendly place called The Palace Green.
WRAPPED TO KILL
And then there’s the packaging nightmare. I bought some low-fat Jarlsberg cheese at Whole Foods that was encased in a non-recyclable plastic container so thick I had to use a hammer and chisel to bust it open. I prefer the old-fashioned neighborhood deli (if you can find one) where they slice the cheddar onto a piece of waxed paper - which I use again to wrap half-used tomatoes.
LET THERE NOT BE SO MUCH LIGHT
No country is as lavish as we are with electric lights. We just leave them burning burning burning all the time. In Europe, when you enter a public restroom you turn on the light, and when you leave – guess what? – you turn it off. Not too difficult.
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September 21, 2011 | 1:42 pm
Posted by Annie Korzen
These questions will test your thriftyhood. (Hint: the correct answer is always B.)
1. You are about to leave a restaurant, and there is still some bread left in the basket. You
A. Are not at all agonized by the thought that it will all be dumped into the garbage.
B. Wrap the remaining slices in a napkin for tomorrow’s breakfast. This is why you always carry a large bag.
2. You see a quarter lying on the sidewalk. You
A. Walk on by without sullying your fingers.
B. Bend down, pick it up, put it in your pocket - and hand it to the next homeless person you come across.
3. You bring home a pound of potato salad from an overpriced deli. I’m not mentioning any names, but if I were, it would be Whole Foods. At dinner, you discover that the potatoes are sorely undercooked. You
A. Force it down, pretending that the crunchiness comes from carrots.
B. Return it the next day and demand a refund, which you use on something safe like a jar of chopped sun-dried tomatoes.
4. Your friend is moving out of town, and offers you two huge boxes of kitchenware. You do not like or need any of it. You
A. Politely refuse, explaining that you have limited storage space.
B. Gratefully accept, and then sell it all at your next garage sale.
5. The restaurant charges an extra $7.95 to add a salad buffet to your steak dinner. You and your husband
A. Both pay the additional charge.
B. Get just one buffet, and let the other person have a few little tastes.
And I do mean “little.” Otherwise it’s stealing. This way it’s only stealing a teensky-weensky bit. I once got nailed – unfairly, I thought – for a similar attempt on an airplane. Benni had heroically offered me all his miles, so I was traveling First Class, and he was stuck in Coach. His only request was that I bring him a mimosa.
When the steward offered drinks, I felt it would be chintzy to ask for two, so I took only one and brought it back to Hubby. I was severely chastised by the attendant, who said that it was unfair for my spouse to receive a free drink when the people around him had to pay. I failed to see the logic of this one, but offered to bring back more drinks for Benni’s seat-mates. The attendant was not amused.
September 19, 2011 | 12:48 pm
Posted by Annie Korzen
My darling husband, Benni, is a utility hog. He leaves the lights on in the bathroom, the TV on in the living room, and the gas on under the coffeepot. Since we both work at home, this means that I spend my day turning off, switching off and clicking off. I’ve asked hubby many times why he wants to waste energy and money this way, and his lucid explanation is “Leave me alone.”
I read somewhere that the single most important thing we can do to slow global warming is to reduce our electricity use. When the earth explodes in a ball of fire, I will at least have the satisfaction of blaming my husband.
DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS
I, on the other hand, try to (a) save money and (b) conserve precious resources. For example, I do not shower every day. (I don’t really need to: I spend most of my time sitting on my butt at the computer, so I rarely work up much of a sweat.) On no/shower days, I wash the essentials (PTA) at the sink, and with a little deodorant and perfume I’m good to go. On the other hand, I know a woman who takes a shower every morning and a bath at bedtime. That’s a little too clean for me, and much too wasteful. Also, water dries your skin and hair, so the shower/bath woman must buy lotion and conditioner by the gallon.
I also conserve water by not flushing the toilet every time I use it, I just lower the lid. During a drought in New York City, the mantra was “If it’s yellow, be mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” I think that’s a good system to follow here in water-deprived Los Angeles.
My friend Tony installed something called a pedal valve at his kitchen sink. He presses on a pump with his foot, so that the water only runs when he needs it. These greeny things are expensive at first, but the savings accumulate.
Even when they’re not in use, your appliances are still drawing electricity. Some noble souls unplug every machine that’s idle, but I’m much too lazy to keep bending down all day, plugging and unplugging. Oh well, Nobody’s perfect.
THE OLD COUNTRY
Europeans do not take water and electricity for granted like we do. When you walk into an apartment building in Copenhagen, or Paris, or Rome, you turn on the staircase light, which is on a timer. By the time you get to your landing, it switches off. Timed lighting, however, is not an exact science and sometimes you are plunged into total darkness a few seconds before you reach your door. This can be jarring, and I never travel without a small flashlight in my purse.
The Europeans also have toilets with two different flush buttons: press one for number one, press two for number two (and press zero for an operator). What a great idea: so simple, so logical - why didn’t we think of that?
Not everything those foreigners do makes sense, though: like the bidet. This has got to be the dumbest invention ever (along with the mini-vac). In a bathroom that’s usually so tiny that the shower is on a cord in the tub, why waste space and water on a fixture whose function is easily accomplished by a washcloth?
And the Brits are a little too thrifty for my taste when it comes to central heating. The indoor temperature in England in September is the same as the outdoor temperature in Maine in December. This is even true in ritzy hotels like the Savoy – where I had to wear fleece-lined boots at night to go to the bathroom. We were being charged a king’s ransom for two nights in the River Suite (someone else was paying) and I had to beg for a space heater.
September 14, 2011 | 11:55 am
Posted by Annie Korzen
I had an ink stain on a silk cocktail dress. My fancy neighborhood cleaner wanted twenty dollars, with no guarantee that the stain would come out. Since I had only paid two bucks for the dress at a rummage sale, I decided to shop around. I tried another local place, and they assured me ink stains are impossible to remove.
I left my neighborhood and drove 10 minutes to a dry cleaner in a less gentrified area. They removed the stain on the spot, and charged me eight bucks. I also discovered that their tailor charges half of what I pay to my local seamstress. Location, location, location.
We have found this same location rule to be true of auto mechanics: prices are lower in blue-collar neighborhoods, and the quality of the work can be excellent. Of course, it takes a little time to get there, and I sometimes succumb to laziness and pay extra for the convenience of nearby shops.
I do stay local when it comes to household services like heating and plumbing: the big chains charge a lot more than small independent companies. I needed to change the locks on two doors. The large chain would have charged $45 for the visit, plus $86 for each lock. The local guy came for $35, plus $64 for the locks.
I will admit I got a little nervous when the neighborhood electrician arrived. He was so old and frail that I had to help him up the front steps. Then he forgot a tool in his van, so I had to help him down the front steps and back up again. These maneuvers were very time-consuming but, fortunately, he was not charging by the hour. He ended up doing a swell job. This was no surprise, as he had ninety years of experience.
September 12, 2011 | 7:22 pm
Posted by Annie Korzen
So many coupon sites and mommieblogs are restricted to small stuff like supermarket mac ‘n cheese, diapers, and pet food. There are more substantial savings to be found if one knows where to look. Here are just two examples.
www.Dealcatcher.com 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 some samples from one day’s 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.
A similar money-saving site is www.fatwallet.com Here’s their pitch. “Saving you money is our foundation and passion. Go shopping by store and never miss coupons, discounts or cash back on your purchases. Shopping for something specific? Search by category and know you’re finding the best deal. Surf today’s deals as they happen with a free community of and for empowered consumers.”
Among some recent listings were
30% off your entire purchase at Banana Republic.
A 60” Mitsubishi HD TV for $699.99 Original price was $1099.99.
2-Pack Kinsford 20lb. Charcoal Briquettes for $7.97 with Free Shipping. Was $27.49
September 8, 2011 | 12:51 pm
Posted by Annie Korzen
Journal More Recycling Tips • I never buy garbage bags. When they ask “Plastic or paper?” in the supermarket, I just take the plastic and then use them for trash. This has gotten problematic, because I’m trying to reduce my big fat carbon footprint. I now bring re-usable canvas shopping bags to the store, but where am I supposed to put my garbage? A friend bought bio-degradable trash bags. They worked so well that they bio-degraded while still in the kitchen bin.
• I never buy wrapping paper. I’ve endured too many holiday celebrations, wedding showers and birthday parties that ended with a mountain of gift-wrap trash. Some Martha Stewart types save it all for crafts projects, but I am allergic to crafts projects. Instead, I put presents into those gift bags that are two for a dollar at the Ninety-nine Cent Store. I don’t write on the message tag, so the recipient can use the bag again. Anyway, if I try to wrap a package myself, it comes out looking like the work of a four-year-old, so the bags save me a lot of stress.
• I do not throw out old clothing. I donate it to my local charity shop. This sometimes ends badly, when I mistakenly buy my own stuff back.
• I reuse shoe boxes as storage containers. I suspect I am not the first to think of this one.
• I buy a bag of a hundred clothespins for a dollar at the Ninety-nine Cent Store and use them close open bags of chips. A package of three plastic chip-clips in the supermarket would be four bucks.
• I use those free address labels that come in mail as IDs on cell phones, manuscripts, etc. (I was going to put one on my key chain, then thought better of it.)
• I received some gift bouquets that came in lovely ceramic containers. I already own around twenty-five lovely ceramic containers, so I saved the ones from the florist and sold them at a yard sale.
• I take the pile of extra paper napkins from the pizza place and keep them in the car.
• I use those free plastic produce bags instead of buying plastic wrap.
• I rinse off and re-use aluminum foil.
• I put the clean side of paper back into the printer for double duty. (Do not do this if you’re sending in a job application!)
• When I’m finished with a magazine, I give it to my local manicure salon.
September 6, 2011 | 12:34 pm
Posted by Annie Korzen
I am allergic to waste: I just can’t abide the thought of perfectly usable things being dumped into the garbage. Besides the ecological consequences, there’s the offense to my compulsively thrifty nature. If there’s such a thing as reincarnation (which I strongly doubt) I must have been a squirrel in my former life. I totally understand the urge to dig a little hole and drop an acorn in, insuring a tasty snack on a winter’s day.
THE OLD FOOD MOVEMENT
I love leftovers. When you heat up food the next day, the flavorful juices have been absorbed, and you have a readymade dinner that doesn’t require any work (a big plus in my book)! Some cultures have no concept of leftovers: they demand food that’s freshly bought and freshly made. Masaki, a film producer from Tokyo, came over and watched me place a pot of yesterday’s beef stew onto the stove. He couldn’t contain his horror. “Annie-san! Are you serving garbage?”
There are some Americans who won’t eat yesterday’s food. When I go to their homes for dinner, I bring my own plastic containers so that I don’t have to suffer the sight of that yummy lasagna being scraped into the trash. By the way, those plastic containers were not bought in a store. I just save take-out containers: no Tupperware parties for me.
Most restaurant portions are so huge that if you finish your plate you might be well on your way to cardiac arrest. I always take home half my meal, which means that I’m getting two dinners for the price of one. I’m saving money and reducing calories at the same time - which makes me feel very righteous indeed.
ON THE ROAD
I haven’t bought soap, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, mouthwash, or ball-point pens in years. That’s what hotels are for. I’ll admit I sometimes overdo it. We were about to leave for the long trip home from Sidney, Australia. Benni was in the shower and asked for the soap. “Too late. It’s already packed!” He did not appreciate my suggestion of just splashing on some extra cologne.
I always travel with those tiny plastic containers of jams and honey that you get for free in coffee shops. I learned my lesson the hard way. We were having a croissant and coffee one morning in Paris, and I asked for some jam. They brought a pot of orange marmalade and charged us five euros – which is about eight dollars. Never again.
I also carry those herbal tea packets you get in hotel rooms. I’m allergic to caffeine and, in many places in the world, “decaf” is considered the equivalent of “boorish American” and is not available. Even domestic airlines can be a problem. On my last flight I was given a packet of decaffeinated coffee and a cup of lukewarm water that wasn’t hot enough to dissolve the coarse powder. So I couldn’t drink my coffee – I had to chew it!
August 31, 2011 | 8:33 pm
Posted by Annie Korzen
Every primitive tribe has its status symbols. Who owns the most goats? Who wears the most beads? Who has the largest lip plate? In the supposedly advanced culture we inhabit, people strut around proudly displaying their labels. Maybe we’re not as advanced as we think we are: beads make more sense to me.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with wanting stuff that’s well designed and of good quality. I just don’t understood people who buy clothing that broadcasts the maker. Why wear a bag with a pattern that screams, “FendiFendiFendiFendi” – unless Fendi is paying you for the free commercial?
Flaunting the brand has no esthetic value; it doesn’t make the item prettier or more flattering - it just shows you can afford to buy something expensive. Well, if that’s your goal, why not wear that Marc Jacobs jacket inside out so people can see who made it? Or, better yet, just enlarge the price tag, laminate it, and pin it to the collar.
Anyway, there are so many counterfeits around that the gal with the Vuitton tote (LVLVLVLVLV) probably got it for a pittance from a street vendor - so you better carry around some documentation proving that yours is real.
My friend Flash is a performance artist who, like me, loves Sportsac bags. They weigh nothing, they have a million compartments, and they’re washable. The only problem is that the LeSportsac name is prominently featured in more than one spot on the exterior. Flash – also like me - is label-allergic, so she took some strips of velvet ribbon and sewed them over the offending display. I admire her creativity but I confess I’m not enough of a purist to make that much effort. If I have to choose between principles and laziness, laziness will usually win out.
For years, one of my favorite outfits was a ‘40s vintage rayon skirt with a sort-of-matching wraparound top. They had two different floral patterns, but the colors were similar enough to relate. Some heavily-labeled fashionista (CoachCoachCoach) came up to me at a dinner party and said, “Lovely ensemble. Missoni?” “Uh, no, thrift shop.” The conversation stopped there.
DISREGARD THESE INSTRUCTIONS
There’s another kind of clothing label that annoys me: those worthless care labels inside every garment. “Dry Clean Only” is a big fat lie. What did people do before they had chemical dry cleaners? They washed everything. And that’s what I do: silk, rayon, linen, etc. I just throw it in the machine, do a cold water wash, and hang it up to dry. (I occasionally break down and take a wool sweater to the cleaners – mostly because I hate the smell of wet wool.)
Of course, I’ve had my disasters. I mistakenly put a DKNY velour turtleneck into a hot water wash, and ended up with a top that would fit a Barbie Doll. I did something similar with my husband’s favorite Brooks Brothers linen shirt - but keep in mind that anything I ruin probably cost a dollar at a yard sale, so I can afford the occasional mess-up.
Another instruction label I totally disregard is “Hand Wash Only” My philosophy is “Hand Wash Never.” I just put flimsy delicates in the gentle cycle – and my manicure will last a few days longer.