Thursday, September 18, 2008

Economize By Shopping Wise

Given the state of our depressed economy, more and more people are starting to look for cheaper ways to shop for the things they need. Retailers are struggling, because people are simply unable to pay their inflated prices anymore. This may be a good thing in the long run for us, because retailers will have to adapt. There will be a lot of consolidating, and lower-priced product lines introduced. Have you noticed lots of stores are starting to have a dollar section? If we can't afford the shopping mall right now, what's left?

My favorite thrift store is suddenly filled with crowds of people who have just discovered that it's smart to buy second hand. Better late than never! Thrift stores are great places to shop for so many reasons. For one thing, the prices are great. Where else can you find practically new shirts and pants for a couple of dollars? For another, the selection is great. They have clothing, housewares, toys, books, furniture, small appliances and more. They are "green" too - think of all the stuff you are keeping out of the landfill by reusing it, and think of all the pollution avoided when the stuff you bought didn't need to be manufactured again. Not only that, but the money you spend is going for a good cause, whether it's to train disadvantaged adults to work, to support a hospital, etc. Last but not least, it's lots of fun. You never know what you're going to find in a thrift store, so it's a little like a scavenger hunt! If you don't know where your local thrift stores are, check your phone book.

For those of you not familiar with dollar stores, they have everything from clothes, to holiday items, batteries and tools, housewares, food, even produce and some frozen goods! At the time I am writing this, everything at these stores costs $1, although I have read in the business section of the newspaper that they may have to start charging more than $1 for some items to stay in business! I suspect they will continue to offer really great deals for those of us with a dollar store in our area.

Another good place to find bargains is the closeout/salvage store. Stores like Big Lots and Re-mart buy the merchandise from stores that are going out of business, or from cartons that were damaged in shipping, or just products that didn't sell well. You have to know your prices when you shop at these stores. Not everything will be a good deal, but you will find some steals. I usually find a lot of bargain food, art supplies, seasonal merchandise and housewares. One tip on the food: try one package first to make sure it is fresh and you like the product, then go back and buy more. Just because something didn't sell well, doesn't mean you won't like it.

One of my favorite places to shop is the church rummage sale. Usually the merchandise has been donated, so the church can sell it very reasonably and still make money. There is usually a wide variety of merchandise and some of it will be brand new in boxes - good for gift giving! These sales are usually particularly good for finding holiday decorations. To find out about rummage sales, look for hand-lettered signs around your town, or look in your local advertising magazine that comes in your mailbox. It's called the Pennysaver in my area.

Don't overlook other fundraisers. In my city the schools have a Clothes Closet twice a year where you can buy clothing for 20 cents an item! People donate their unwanted clothes, and the proceeds go to benefit the schools. I usually end up with a whole garbage bag full for about $5! I get a lot of terrific new clothes for very little money, and I can feel good about helping the schools at the same time. What could be better!?

Perhaps the best place to get good deals is the yard sale. My area is blessed with good weather, so we have them year-round, but most urban and suburban areas have them, at least in the summer. The very best is the block sale, or the sale that an entire apartment complex or mobile home park is participating in. You can find a lot of great stuff for sale at rock-bottom prices, and you don't have to drive all over town! I look for signs on telephone poles, or if I want to hit quite a few, I will look in the local advertiser for sales, and then plan my route with a map book. It is not uncommon to find clothes for 25 cents or 50 cents, and you can find lots of furniture, books, decorations, etc.. The best deals can be made at moving sales, or at any yard sale when they are getting ready to pack up, and don't want to box that item up one more time! Go armed with lots of small change, clothing sizes of your family members and a measuring tape if you are looking for furniture to fit in a specific spot in your house.

Hopefully this article has given you lots of ideas about where to shop when your wallet's feeling a little light. Keep up your newly frugal shopping habits once the economy improves, and you just might find the money for that vacation you've been wanting to take, that home improvement project you've been planning, or just to pad your savings a little! Shop smart, and have fun!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Live Little and Prosper

There is a certain economy of scale that goes along with living in a studio (sometimes aptly called an efficiency) apartment. It's not for everyone, but if you like to live simply, and possessions are not that important to you, it's a great, inexpensive way to live.

Your need for furniture is minimal when you live in a studio. Think furniture that does double duty. A sofa bed can serve as both bed and sofa. A Murphy bed vanishes into the wall by day, or they even have some that convert into a sofa or table when the bed is not in use. A small desk placed behind the sofa bed, facing the TV cabinet, can be both desk and dining table. You only need one television when you have only one room. Some of you will be able to get by with just a laptop. These days you can watch TV and movies on a laptop, even use it as a phone with a VOIP provider ( Coffee tables are available that raise up to dining table height.

You may wonder where you can stash your stuff in a studio. Shelves covering one wall can provide hidden storage for everything. Just use some attractive boxes or baskets. Label neatly, or make yourself a master key of the contents of all the boxes. Some furniture, such as ottomans and chaise lounges have hidden storage inside. I recommend one of those closet organizers to maximize your closet's storage potential. If you have a conventional bed, there is room to store all sorts of stuff underneath.

You can also save a lot of energy living in a studio. Smaller, energy-efficient appliances, including refrigerators, dishwashers and small wall ovens are available. If you are just one person living alone, these are probably sufficient for your needs. Lighting needs are minimal. You probably won't require much heat or AC either. Insulated window coverings can reduce your need for both of these.

If you have access to a patio, balcony or even a sunny window, you can grow some of your own vegetables or herbs. If you don't have any outdoor space, at least grow some houseplants. Everyone likes to see something living and green. Your complex will probably provide amenities such as a pool, hot tub or gym. Let someone else maintain them. You just enjoy them!

Studio living will curb your desire to accumulate stuff. You will be more likely to borrow books from the library than buy them. You will own a few well-chosen outfits rather than shop indiscriminately. You may start to favor presents such as gift-certificates to movies and grocery stores, rather than more things you have to store. All of this will save you money as well as space.

Small-space living also liberates you from all sorts of chores and obligations. Such a small apartment will not require much cleaning. Use the freed-up time and energy to do something fun! You will obviously not be able to entertain on a large scale in such close quarters. Leave hosting the Thanksgiving dinner to another family member. Bring a pie.

You singles or minimalist couples out there, give studio living a try. I think you'll find bigger is by no means better.