Posted by Annie Korzen
I do love a low price, and you can’t get lower than Zero. The good news is that there are a gazillion useful items out there that are just yours for the taking: everything from moving boxes to mature trees. And we all know how irritating immature trees can be.
The enlightened folks who donate these freebies realize that it makes more sense to give something away rather than dump it in the landfill. So when you take someone’s electric juicer, you are not just being thrifty: you are protecting the environment. Frugaholics tend to think green.
WWW.CRAIGSLIST.COM IS A GREAT SOURCE OF FREEBIES OF ALL KINDS.
I check this listing every day. Here are some sample offerings.
• “Barbie doll house, made of wood, hundreds of small toys inside, with Barbies. Adding a little bike also.”
• “‘60’S VINTAGE BRIDAL GOWN”
• “One green round plastic patio table w/4 chairs”
• “Free Paint Cans: Black, Light yellow, Aztek orange, Light green, Deep maroon/red”
Water is scarce and costly here in Los Angeles My plants were looking thirsty, and I was advised to put down a three-inch layer of bark mulch to help retain moisture. I have a very large front yard and a smallish back yard, so we’re talking mucho mulch. One bag at the nursery is about six bucks and I needed about 30 bags.
I went on Craig’s List and looked for freebies. Several tree services would deliver, but you had to take an entire truckload. This seemed risky. I had a nightmarish vision of getting a huge mountain of pine chips dumped on my front yard which I would never be able to use.
Then I noticed an ad from a private person which said “A tree service dumped a huge mountain of pine chips on my front yard. I will never be able to use it all. Come and take as much as you want.” Perfecto! We filled our station wagon twice – which barely made a dent in the poor girl’s mountain – and our formerly parched garden is now thriving, as you can see in the photo. What a deal!
FREECYCLE: ANOTHER GREAT SOURCE FOR FREE STUFF
I just became a member of the Freecyle network. www.Freecycle.org It’s a really cool site where you can search for free goods, or recycle your own excess. It costs nothing to join, and the offerings are varied. A glance at one day’s posts included a vacuum cleaner, a wooden desk, 50 sheets of poster paper, and cherry-flavored Nyquil.
Last week, I scored a shopping bag full of hair products, toiletries, and unused make-up. Then my husband needed to get rid of his old computer monitor. I posted a listing, and it was gone within 24 hours, which is a lot better than having to schlep it over to the electronic waste dump.
Freecycle has thousands of local groups representing millions of members. As a result, they are currently keeping over 500 tons a day out of landfills. This amounts to five times the height of Mt. Everest in the past year alone, when stacked in garbage trucks. In spite of the old inspirational song, “Climb Every Mountain,” I say that’s one mountain no one should have to climb.
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August 1, 2011 | 12:26 pm
Posted by Annie Korzen
Jews are often characterized as being cheap – as in the joke about the new Jewish game show, The Price is Too Much! I refuse to take this as an insult: I am proud to be a thriftaholic. I rarely buy anything that hasn’t been pre-worn, pre-used, pre-loved. Among my frugalista friends, bargain-shopping is a competitive sport. So you can imagine my palpitations when I heard about the Sunday bargain fests at Jet Rags on La Brea. They put out mountains of vintage clothing in the parking lot, and you can take as much as you want for a dollar a piece.
This was particularly exciting for me, because – although I’m a writer and performer - I have a hobby business as a vintage fashion dealer. I buy ‘50s and ‘60s stuff at yard sales and thrift shops, and then resell them. You may have seen some of my finds on Mad Men.
I was looking for clothing from 1969 for the movie Men in Black 3 and I figured Jet Rags might be a treasure trove. It was indeed. I got there when it opened at 9, and there were already 40 hipsters combing through the piles. The crowd was a mix of students, tourists, unemployed actors, and serious fashionistas. I was definitely the den mother of the group.
In addition to a huge variety of clothing, you could also find fabric and linens. I saw someone taking a king-sized sheet set and asked if he wasn’t concerned about bedbugs (one of my biggest phobias.) He said that as long as you throw the item into the dryer at high heat, you’re safe.
One striking young woman was wearing a long black lace dress, oversized rhinestone jewelry, and 6-inch-high heels. Among her huge pile of purchases was ornate wedding gown, which she was planning to wear to a party that night. A wedding gown to a party? Oh well, different strokes…
A chic Dutch tourist stood aside while her friends rummaged. She didn’t much care for this form of battlefield shopping, and was looking forward to visiting the tidy, organized stores at The Grove.
One young fashion designer was buying up all the denim. He told me that denim is hot again, and he planned to use the fabric to create his own styles.
I didn’t find much in the way of 1969 summer dresses, but I did pick up a cool Hawaiian shirt for my son, a rain jacket for my husband, and a vintage hand-embroidered dish towel for my shabby chic kitchen. Not a bad haul for three bucks!
What I couldn’t figure out was how the store could afford to sell stuff so cheaply. The manager explained that they buy hundred-pound bales for very little, and put out 12 bales every week. They are actually making money on the dollar items, so everybody wins.
From Jet Rags, I moved on to my usual Sunday haunt: Out of the Closet. This chain of thrift stores has dollar sales every Sunday, and I managed to find a dress and shirt for Men in Black, plus a Donna Karan silk knit turtleneck for myself. All in a day’s work!
July 27, 2011 | 12:43 pm
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.
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.