Sunday, February 28, 2010

On Books and Things

A few words about used books- since much of my list this time consists of them.

I could regale you with endless stories of being patient and finding exactly the book I was looking for on the shelves at Goodwill, but will hold back and just give the most recent example. For almost a year now, I had been looking for a copy of Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer-winning Gilead. I got so desperate that I held my breath last November, and allowed myself to cross the threshold of B&N for the first time in months. (Bookstores are crack to me, and I can’t afford to support my habit.) I headed straight for the R section of fiction, and found, to my dismay, that they had no copies in stock. I did buy a copy of Home, also by Robinson, and set in the same fictional Iowa town, and enjoyed it immensely. But of course, that only made me want Gilead that much more. So a couple of weeks ago I steeled myself and braved the retail giant again. This time there was a copy, which I gleefully purchased for $14.00 and am savoring now. BUT- you guessed it- last weekend when I went on my rounds of thrift stores, guess what was smiling at me from the stacks at GW?

A pristine copy of Gilead. $1.99. I bought it anyway. My mom will love it too.

As many of you (if there is indeed anyone out there!) know, I am a pre-published writer. Many of my online friends are writers too, of both the published and pre variety, so I am well aware of the downside of buying books second hand. In these times, though, and for gifting purposes, I simply have to concede- it just makes sense. Still, I know what it takes to write a novel, and when my writer friends have a new book coming out, I am a common sight at the desk of my local Barnes and Noble preordering a copy the moment release dates are announced. I do have my loyalties and want my friends to get their share. I truly want them to shine in an industry that has felt the crunch as much or more than any other.

Many of the books I buy used are replacement copies of those that were originally bought at retail and loved into dilapidation by my family or grew legs and walked out of my classroom unexpectedly. Several I have bought recently are intended for my now nearly independent son, whose own bookshelves are peppered with copies of my favorites he swiped when he left, and are alternately missing some very important literary works, such as that essential bathroom reading: Something Under the Bed is Drooling by Bill Watterson which I picked up for seventy-four cents the other day, as opposed to $7.99 new.

One book I bought last week when we were visiting the boy in Flagstaff, is a bit of an anomaly. Christmas: The American Annual of Christmas Literature and Art, by Randolph E. Haugan, has a copyright date of 1954. It appealed to the vintage kitsch lover in me, and although I don’t know who will receive it, I happily slapped down my $1.99. The only comparison I have is on ebay, where the opening bid for a copy available right now is $5.99. Guess that will have to do.

Non-book items added to my stash in the past couple of weeks include:

Two new chrome record album frames from Urban Outfitters, marked at $15.00 each, mine for $5.99 each. Snooze will like them, although he really needs a bunch more for all the albums he has hung.

A brand new, tags on, One Fish Two Fish T-shirt, also for the boy, tag price, $18.00, my price, $3.99.

A green, black and white plaid Yak-Pak messenger bag, tags on, from Pac-Sun, retail $48.00, Hospice half-price day price, 5.00. Daughter Shriek was with me when I got it, but maybe she’ll still be surprised in December.

A jar candle for my friend Cynthia who loves candles as much as I do- Retail approximately $5.99, Hospice price, $2.00.

A cuter than cute Starbucks “Create-Your-Own Tumbler” kit, which has nearly as many potential recipients as I have people to buy for, retail price, $27.95, my price, $6.99.

Totals for this entry: Running totals:

Retail prices: $157.92 $361.88

My prices: $34.68 $53.64

My savings to date: $123.24 $308.24

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Psych 101

Friend Judith suggested I might want to delve a bit into the psychological ramifications of consumer shopping. At first I wasn’t really sure what she meant- I’m no psychologist, by any means, and as stated earlier, I try to “consume” as little as possible. She pointed me in the direction of Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy- the Science of Shopping, and I Googled a summary. Until I have a chance to find a copy for myself (at Goodwill, perhaps!?) and do a little research, I will make no claims to my expertise on the matter, but I can make some claims about my own shopping experience and the road that has led to my thinking now.

I was broke when I was in college. All of my friends were too, and in part, I believe, it was that communal broke-ness that forged and soldered the most powerful friendships I have ever known. We all had the essentials, of course: food at the dining hall, the roofs of the dorms over our sleeping heads, and we had work-study (mine was about $35 a month) to pay for incidentals and revelry. But we were raised by the children of the Depression, “we were there for an education, not recreation,” (oh, little did they know!) and any extra cash was hard to come by. A windfall of ten dollars from home meant Domino’s could deliver, or we’d pool our money for a pork roast in the Crock Pot on a Sunday night, and those meals were shared, savored, and appreciated like no others. (Ohmygosh! We were Socialists!)

But I was a teenage girl, and teenage girls like to shop. A friend introduced me to a thrift shop off the square called “The Helping Hand.” He’d found some vintage suit coats there, and was suddenly snazzy in an off-beat sort of way. I admired his new look and agreed to go with him.

It was a fantastic mess. Loading dock doors open to the street; clothing -sorted by gender only, not necessarily color, style, or size- was heaped onto sawhorse and board tables all over the place. What I saw there was a room full of buried treasure.

My plunder that day was two vintage winter coats (One- a 1950’s black velvet swing coat with a Peter Pan collar and rhinestone buttons at the collar and cuffs- I own to this day.) and a pair of navy blue Italian glove-leather pumps.

My bill at the cash box was $4.50, and I was hooked.

In the years after college, there was no “need” to thrift. I was married, we both had good jobs, and we set out to live the American Dream. It wasn’t until our second child was two, and I lost an enormous amount of weight that could no longer legally be blamed on my daughter that I rediscovered thrift stores. (Yes. There is a statute of limitations on alleged “Baby fat.” Didn’t you know?) The weight was falling off fast- I was down a size every six weeks at most over the course of the next nine months. That was fabulous. But I still had to look professional at school- no droopy drawers for the teacher- and certainly couldn’t afford a whole new work wardrobe that often at retail prices.

The things that impressed me this time were the cost again, of course, but also the bright, clean, cheerful atmosphere of the stores, and the organization and flow of the layouts. This was not The Helping Hand. No digging through heaps anymore, someone had already done the sorting. There were racks of new and designer clothing set apart, gorgeous clothes for the kids, and an abundance of good quality non-clothing items as well- housewares, decorator items, craft supplies, and the books! Don’t even get me started on the books!

My original plan had been to return to “normal shopping” once I reached my weight loss goal, but when that time had come and passed, I still found myself thrifting. I liked it. And when I found the exact same pair of Guess shorts I had just paid thirty-two dollars for at Dillard’s on the rack at Salvation Army for three bucks just two weeks later- I never thought twice about it again.

That’s not to say I don’t ever shop retail. Of course I do. I just know what I need when I go out- clothing or otherwise- and I stop at Goodwill first. I honestly do find exactly what I need there as often as not, and when it’s “not”- I still have a good time looking.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Off and Running

Okay, so the "once-a-week writing" part of my resolve has been impeded a little, but I still have my determination and rest assured, I have been on the hunt. Right now, part of the problem is I really want to post pics of my finds to add to the fun, but I am not sure either camera is compatible with my computer.

Since the crash and burn virus episode last fall, I’m a little paranoid about my laptop, and could use some technical assistance. (Where is that boy when I need him? College. That’s where.)

So anyway, I will work on this issue, but in the meantime here’s a photoless update:

For the first week or so, the pickings were slim. I spent several days locating oft-rumored but never-witnessed treasure troves and walked out disappointed on several fronts: the pricing, the quality of the merchandise, and the organization of the stores. My tried and trues left me empty handed as well. For a brief, flickering moment I questioned my sanity and the mileage I was putting in on a fruitless endeavor- when I walked into the Hospice store on a half-price Saturday and TA-DAAAH! a brand-new, never opened set of Food Network international beer glasses which my home-brewer brother-in-law will certainly put to good use.

Retail price: $39.99. My price: $5. Savings: $34.99.

I was off and running.

A subsequent trip to my nearest Goodwill yielded a Sigrid Olsen linen/ramie/cotton cardigan, TAGS ON, in gorgeous shades of periwinkle, beige, and sage, that will make my sister’s big blue eyes pop. Online research says a low estimate would be about $109.00 new, so the $7.99 I forked out seems like it was a good deal. Savings: $101.01.

(Disclaimer: I love my sister. But the fact is, if I hadn’t found this sweater at Goodwill, I would not have gone to Dillard’s and spent that kind of money on her. ((Would if I could. Can’t so I wouldn’t.)) That means calling it a savings is a little facetious, so I need consensus. Are we down with that anyway? She gets a gorgeous garment; I get to feel smug. Everybody wins.)

Smaller items that have made their way home with me in the last week or so include:

• A happy-face fleece throw-still in its bundle-wrap: estimated Walgreen’s price $5.99, Goodwill half-price day price: $1.99 = $4 saved. This will probably be my youngest nephew’s small gift.

• A ridiculously cute baby chick-shaped cereal bowl by Hallmark that stood there on its big orange feet and hypnotized me with its wide eyes until I surrendered and put it in my basket without a clue to my own motivation. Except it was ridiculously cute. My daughter has informed me that she MUST have this bowl; she MUST take it to college with her in a few years; but in the meantime it MUST be her Valentine next week so she can eat cereal and soup for the rest of her life in the company of a ridiculously cute chick. Hallmark sticker price: $12.99. My price: $1.99. Savings: $11.00, but it won’t make it to Christmas.

• A cute Hallmark photo album with additional pages- also all new and still in its plastic, retail price: $35.99, Goodwill ½ = $1.99. $34 saved. Sister Kathy loves to scrapbook, and her photo organization puts me to shame. A recent job change leaves her with less time to work on her books though and this should help.

Retail values: $203.96

Money spent: $18.96

Savings to my sanity in November: $185.00

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Further Incentive

When I first began to think about this project, I saw two clear advantages. Saving money, of course,was important, but tied closely was the opportunity to further reduce our environmental impact. Ever since the seventies, with the advent of Earth Day, the mantra "Reduce,Reuse, Recycle" has been pounded into our collective subconscious. But do we think about it between April twenty-seconds? Recycling is easy in communities that have procedures in place for collection and sorting. It makes us feel we do our part. Unfortunately, we have no such system in place here, so I combat garbage in other ways: I ALWAYS use my reusable bags when I shop- including at thrift stores- to help end the insanity of plastic bags. I compost all vegetable food and garden waste, and donate my aluminum to Habitat for Humanity where the recycling profits build a home a year for local families. I also spend part of Christmas morning re-rolling large sheets of wrapping paper and the wired ribbon from our presents for re-use. My daughter, especially, has a fondness for certain papers and ribbon patterns, and looks forward to their reappearance beneath the tree each year as much as she looks forward to any of our other Christmas traditions.

When my kids were small, the packaging left on the living room floor when all the gifts were open created a heap equal to or larger than the mountain the gifts themselves had formed around the tree. And sadly, the majority of that was hauled out to the dumpster and now lies still intact in a deep unmarked grave somewhere in the desert. All because some marketer somewhere thought that Barbie had to be positioned in just this way to appeal to my little consumer. Three layers of clear plastic, sixteen zip ties and four hundred wire twists later, Barbie would never assume that position again.

Or wear both of those shoes.

Today as I consider my local options for shopping, I recognize a third distinct advantage to my plan. Not only is "thrifting" thrifty and green, but money spent at many of the stores here in town will support very worthy causes. Besides our two Goodwill stores, we have two Salvation Army stores, a homeless mission resale store, a Hospice Thrift Shop, a Humane Society Resale, and a Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

I'd sooner give my money to any of them than pay for packaging!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Recipients of Goodwill

One of the best things about this plan is the time I have (right now, anyway-- ask me again in November) to accomplish my objectives. It would be easy if I were one of those people who can run out and buy a generic, one-size-fits-all present for the people on my list and be satisfied with that.

I'm not.

A present from me (and in some cases purchased by me and given by my family) must have meaning. It represents something about the person it is intended for and something about my/our relationship with that person. I set my gift-giving standards pretty high, and I suspect that is part of the reason the whole Christmas season has gotten so stressful for me the past four or five years.

So here are the people I must consider during the holiday season:

My husband. Sparky will be 50 this year, and his "annual bottle of Polo" is one of the factors that made me set my Goodwill gift goal at 50%. He is an armchair sports fan, antique radio afficionado, and up-and-coming foodie. He bikes to work every day, reads a lot, and never asks for anything. He has historically been one of the toughest giftees on my list.

Son, Snooze. Snooze will be 21 in April, and could easily have been internet-named Sasquatch. He is a typical college kid, living with two friends in a surprisingly non-vomit-inducing (unless you look too closely at the stair treads or around the edges of the bathrooms) apartment in Flagstaff. His desert existence prior to life on the mountain has uncovered a need for warm winter clothing, he enjoys cooking (when they can afford food) and the eclectic decor of the apartment itself provides many fun opportunities for improvisation. Snooze is grateful for anything and everything, but because he is the age he is and the size he is, and requires certain technological upgrades on a fairly regular basis, he was another 50% determiner.

Daughter Shriek. Shriek will be 15 this year. Not your typical frou-frou teen girl, her sense of style is delightful and sometimes unpredictable. She is a musician, avid reader, animal-lover, and photographer. Left to her own devices, she has a tendency to hang out in her down-filled bed and jammies all weekend rotating between Xbox, iPod, phone, and ANTM.

She cannot be left to her own devices very often.

These are the primaries and will receive the bulk of the thrifty booty. Additionally, over the next ten and a half months, I must find gifts for my two parents; my two in-laws; my sister, her husband, and their two boys- 16 and 11; my brother and his wife; and a couple of close friends. There are several situational-optionals as well: grown nieces and nephews receive if we are together for the holidays- which of course has not been determined this far out, and may provide a last-minute panic despite my best intentions.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Project Proposal

I am not a Scrooge.
Or a Grinch.
Or a Bumble.

What I am is a public schoolteacher/writer with a husband, two kids, and family on both sides for whom Christmas has historically involved major year-end expense.

My 2009 Christmas trees are still standing as I write this- the plural (there are 5) being further proof of my Grinchlessness. While they are still up, I am here to publically proclaim my Christmas 2010 intent:


We are antique collectors from way back, and to that end I have always been a thrifter. I love the thrill of the chase, and the rush I get from finding an amazing bargain. The past few Christmases have landed a few of my finds under the tree to various family members, and it never fails to amaze me that those things are received with enthusiasm equal to or greater than anything I spend retail on. This year my son the loved the disco ball ("Awesome" was his descriptor) I found for $14.99, my daughter was thrilled with her 95 cents-a-skein yarn, and my sister hasn't stopped raving about the Victorian porcelain hand I sent as a counterpoint addition to her collection.

I got it at a church yard sale for a dollar and a half.

So the plan is this: At least half of what I give to EVERYONE on my list will originate at second-hand stores or yard sales. I will post my purchases (with pictures if I can figure that part out) on this site on at least a weekly basis. All shopping will be completed, wrapped and mailed by December 1, 2010, and I will be recycling-- "greener" than ever while not feeling the stress of last-minute shopping or the Christmas Wallet Crunch.

Anybody want to join me?
Happy hunting!