Coffee heat rising

B-a-a-a-d basselope! Frugality 0, Spending 1

Okay, I fell off the frugality wagon with a resounding thud this afternoon, cleverly managing it at a moment when I probably should be pinching every penny that comes my way. What the heck: life’s short and tomorrow we die.

For several years, I’ve been quietly watching for a sideboard that would go with my dining room table, please my finicky tastes, and not bankrupt me. Right now there’s a console table sitting in the dining room, the sort of thing you put behind your sofa to hold a lamp. That’s what the table’s doing there: holding a lamp. It has no storage, and storage is desperately needed, given that the former homeowner’s kitchen remodel was beautiful but short on cabinet space. So I’ve wanted something with shelves and maybe even a couple of drawers.

Today a friend and I headed out in search of a desk to fit a small space in her house. After several hours spent traveling across the city, exploring many new stores we had never visited, we ended up at the Crate and Barrel, which is having a summer sale. And what should we see but…ta-DAAA! Not just “a” sideboard on sale, but THE sideboard, marked down $550.

At $1190, the price was still a bit rich for my blood, but I do have it in my diddle-it-away savings. True, it will drain Diddle-It-Away to zero, but why does one have diddle-it-away savings if one does not intend to diddle them away? It is incredibly gorgeous. It’s also set up to serve as a media center, so if I have to move to a smaller house in the future, it’s versatile enough to adapt to a different purpose.

Even though I’m sure I could have acquired something cheaper, this is well made with solid wood and mortise-and-tenon construction, and it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. M’hijito will get the console table — also a very nice piece of furniture — and I will now have a place for serving items presently stashed in a back closet and in the garage. So I guess I don’t feel too guilty…after I get over the sticker shock, I’m sure I’ll be very happy I bought it. Especially if I don’t lose my job….

Celebrate America: Shop Local

Did you realize that for every two jobs a huge national retailer brings to your town, three jobs are lost? Yes. As local businesses, unable to compete with WalMarts and Home Depots and Applebees, close down, more jobs are lost than gained.

Have you ever noticed that megaretailers raise their bargain prices once most of the local competition has been driven out of business? Check prices at your nearest surviving Ace Hardware (you’ll have to drive a ways to find it)-you may be surprised to find Home Depot’s prices are actually higher on many products.

A study of the effect of chain stores on the economy of Andersonville, a suburb of Chicago, showed that for every $100 in consumer spending with a locally owned firm, $68 remained in the Chicago economy, but only $43 remained from $100 spent in a chain store. The same study showed that 70% of residents preferred to shop in local stores and 80% preferred shopping in traditional urban business districts to big boxes. Nationwide, experience has shown that chain stores drain tax revenues through ill-considered subsidies, leave shopping areas blighted, and actively work to drive local companies out of business. Meanwhile, the carbon cost of pointlessly hauling food and other goods around the world continues to skyrocket. And as we know, we no longer can trust that our food is safe, nor our pet food, nor our children’s toys…

It is past time to fight back.

Stalking the Local Merchant

I was pleased to find a fight-back weapon here in my state: a coalition of businesses has come into being to foster local commerce and to encourage people to shop locally. The retail landscape here has become so homogenized it’s hard to find local stores. Most of our wonderful independent bookstores were hounded out of business years ago, people mysteriously developed a penchant for taste-alike restaurants, our fine local hardware shops closed their doors within months of Home Depot’s arrival, and now Phoenix, like every other major American city, looks just like every other major American city. Cookie-cutter commerce has brought us cookie-cutter cities full of cookie-cutter people. And so, it is excellent to come across an organization that will tell you where to find local shopping.

So far, I haven’t located a national clearinghouse or umbrella organization for such groups, but a little googling suggests they’re all over the country. As you might expect, smaller municipalities, recognizing that chain stores threaten their job base and the very character of their towns, are resisting vigorously. Taylor, Texas, for example, has a lively shop-local movement; there’s one in central Illinois and another in Cape Cod.

But larger cities are also starting to join battle: Salt Lake City’s Vest Pocket Business Coalition complements Utah’s statewide organization. New Orleans urges citizens to patronize local businesses, and Brooklyn has an active shop-local movement.

No doubt there are many more. Visits to just these few websites will show you the endless good reasons to buy on the local economy as much as you can, and most of them list locally owned businesses. Try googling “shop local” and the name of your city or state.

The Costs, the Benefits

Does shopping local cost more? Possibly, since megacorporations have no qualms about undercutting local competition-at least until the competition is gone. But we’ve already seen what abandoning our local economies for huge box stores has done to the quality of life in our cities: we have lost what makes our towns our towns, as every city in America has come to look alike. We’ve lost jobs and wages. We’ve lost nearby shopping and quality neighborhoods. As the cost of fuel has risen, the cost of flying and trucking food from far-away megasuppliers is making the most ordinary food items unaffordable. And now, in the era of globalization ushered in by vast corporate interests and their political allies, we are enjoying unsafe food and toys, engineered obsolescence of big-ticket items, less and less choice and variety in the products offered to us, longer drives to fewer stores…to say nothing of carefully orchestrated corporate invasion of our privacy.

Penny wise and pound foolish, with a vengeance! Some things are worth paying for. One of those things is our way of life.

I for one intend to start shopping local whenever I can reasonably do so. I hope you’ll all join me at your local merchants’ stores.
It’s simply good for America.

2 Comments left on iWeb site:

BeThisWay

Excellent article!We just discovered our local Ace Hardware, and it’s less than three miles away!Husband and I both enjoyed browsing their shelves, and the prices were sometimes lower, sometimes higher, and sometimes the same as the Big Boxes.The customer service blew the Big Boxes away…

I much prefer the local farmers market to the big grocery stores, even though they are pseudo-local.Local, neighborhood restaurants are often sooo much betterthan the chains.I think people like to eat at chains so they know what to expect.Levels of cleanliness and quality are assumed to be good.

Sometimes I have to choose price, but when they are comparable I’m going to make the effort to shop locally whenever possible.

Jeff

I agree!This is a great article and highlights the most important reason to shop local and support American businesses … because it keeps jobs, and our money, in the States where it belongs.

Shopping: Saved from myself

A friend and I shopped the sales at an upscale Scottsdale mall last week. I was saved from spending much by the fact that in all those acres and acres and acres of women’s clothes, there wasn’t a darn thing worth buying.

I’ve never loved shopping. But now that I’m a grown woman and, as one over the age of 50, a stranger in a strange land, I hate, loathe, and despise shopping. Mass-produced clothing is not made for adult women.

Understand, I am not overweight. My weight and BMI are comfortably in the ideal range for a woman my height and age. But nevertheless, if I find something that’s not ugly or trampy-looking, it doesn’t fit. If it fits, it’s plug-hideous. If it fits and it’s not ghastly, then it has to be dry-cleaned.

We live in a place where temperatures range upwards of 100 degrees for five months a year; the rest of the time, the weather is comparable to what most people think of as spring and summer. I am not going to be made to dry-clean something that fits up beneath my underarms or that looks like you’ve slept in it the minute you strap yourself into a seat-belt. Nor, thank you, do I care to bathe myself in dry-cleaning chemicals even if an item doesn’t have to be cleaned every single time it’s worn. If an item can’t be washed, I don’t buy it.

So. During the winter, Talbot’s carries good-looking tailored clothing, much of it washable, that actually fits. In the summer…ah, the summer: Talbot’s buyers go stark raving mad. For the past three years, every summer outfit in that store has been freaking bizarre! Purple polka-dots, flounces, and silly-looking patterns that belong on an eight-year-old. One whose parents have no taste. They still have pants that fit, and my friend bought a couple pair. But I don’t need pants. I need a summer dress or skirt that’s easy to get into and easy to launder, and I need some shirts that will dress up the Costco jeans I habitually wear to work.

Neither of those resided at the Scottsdale Fashion Square Talbot’s.

Ann Taylor had some dresses in the style I coveted: all dry-clean only.

Bloomingdale’s had a perfect outfit from Eileen Fisher. The price would have consumed my entire clothing budget, and I needed more than one item.

Macy’s: an ocean of clothing, all of it hideous. Macy’s assaults you with loud, annoying Muzak that hurts your ears and distracts you from the job of sorting through rack after rack after endless rack of clothing in search of something that will fit and not make you look stupid. Salespeople are unhappy at best, unpleasant at worst. Not a place where one wants to spend much time.

We went into J. Jill’s. The J. Jill’s catalogue usually has several attractive outfits designed for grown women, but for some reason the store has next to nothing. I picked up a couple of long, swirly skirts. As I was standing there trying to get a saleslady’s attention to let me into a dressing room, another customer walked by, stared at the choices I had in hand, and pulled a horrified sour face.

That really made me feel like trying on clothes.

I did buy a shirt to go with the jeans there, though. It’s just O.K., nothing special.

At Banana Republic we found tons of cute clothes, all of them designed to fit anorexic 18-year-olds. But bought another shirt, not very different from the J. Jill shirt, except for the bracing price tag. Just O.K.

So I didn’t spend much money, which was just as well. But my wardrobe is still threadbare and dominated by twenty-dollar dungarees. Frustrating.

A$k nicely, and ye shall re¢eive

Truth to tell, I didn’t even ask at the Safeway yesterday.

I dropped by on the way home from work, not feeling on the top shelf and absolutely not feeling like cooking anything elaborate. There wasn’t much in the house for me to eat or anything at all for the dog to eat. Thought I’d buy a porterhouse (3 or 4 meals for me) and an Idaho potato, along with a couple of other minor necessities.

All the T-bones and porterhouses were sliced paper-thin, the better to persuade buyers that the breathtaking prices were still buying them a nice steak. You can’t grill one of those things rare, and I don’t like shoe-leather meat. There was a nice, thick ribeye, but I really wanted a porterhouse, which would yield enough for several meals.

So, I picked up the ribeye to keep my hands on it, since it was the only steak cut thick enough to grill the way I prefer it, and then stopped by the butcher and asked if he could slice a porterhouse a little thicker than a quarter-inch, like…about the thickness of the captive ribeye. All the steaks in the fancy meat cabinet were also cut thin. He said he would, but another customer was ahead of me with a large order, and then he’d have to take his saw apart and refit it with a different blade. If I’d like to wait a while, he would be happy to slice a respectable porterhouse.

Tired and distinctly under the weather, I said no, I could make do with the steak in hand. He then – get this! – offered to cut the price on the ribeye!

Yes. The ribeye was already marked down. He marked it down even more, for no other reason than goodwill.

And with that gesture, goodwill was exactly what Safeway got! Not only that, but the checkout clerk was actually polite to me. You couldn’t pry me away from the place now.

Thought for a moment I’d stepped through a time warp: who would think we were in the 21st century? Wish other retailers would remember that customer service = business goodwill = customer loyalty = higher profits.

3 Comments left on iWeb site

Mrs. Accountability

Safeway employees are always extremely polite, helpful and friendly. I only buy sale items from Safeway, but their great personalities would more than make up for the higher prices.I would like to apply for a job at Safeway just once to see what their hiring procedure is like. I mean, they MUST do a personality test on people, to make sure they are “people” persons

Wednesday, July 23, 200807:47 P

Mrs. Accountability

Oh, and the other thing I’ve noticed… in the less affluent neighborhoods the steaks are sliced paper thin. In our little town they are 2″ thick steaks, much thicker than I would ever like. How many ounces of meat do you eat at a meal to make 3-4 meals of a porterhouse?! Guess I’m a pig! I can eat a whole one myself

Wednesday, July 23, 200807:49 P

Funny about Money

LOL! I eat a lot of veggies, grains, and salad, so the steak is just a small part of the feast. A typical meal is fish, meat, or poultry; rice, potato, or pasta; and salad or cooked vegetable. Plus fruit for dessert if there’s anything good in the house. Plus wine or beer if I’m not on a diet.

Old age helps, too. In my callow youth I could easily polish off a whole porterhouse, and did so every now & then. These days I don’t seem to want to eat that much. Not that I don’t want to eat or don’t enjoy eating (it’s one of my favorite pastimes), but that much smaller portions seem to suffice

Wednesday, July 23, 200808:40 P

A low-cost make-up kit for travel

With airlines barring all sorts of toiletries and making it difficult or impossible to carry on more than a change of underwear, women who use expensive department-store cosmetics have a problem. Check your make-up through in a suitcase, and chances are it’ll be lost when you reach your destination. If that’s the case, you can be out several hundred dollars worth of fancy toiletries.

There’s a simple, low-cost solution. It involves taking advantage of a little secret the cosmetics industry doesn’t want you to know: pricey upscale face creams and make-up are, at base, identical to the stuff you buy at Walgreen’s.

Yes. I’m afraid it’s true. Lancôme, for example, is just L’Oréal dressed up in elegant jars and gold-plated price tags. Clinique is suspiciously reminiscent of Almay. This being so, you can safely do without your favorite products for a week or two of vacation time and still look just fine during your trip. The trick is to find something comparable to replace the liquid items you use in your daily toilette

Containers

Go to a drugstore, a camping store, or Target and get yourself a few three-ounce plastic bottles with screw-on caps. These are about the size of the free sample shampoo bottles you find in hotels and upscale motels. Plastic bottles are lighter to carry than glass jars and don’t break, and three ounces is as much as you’re allowed to carry on. Also, lay in some one-quart ziplock-style plastic bags. And a pen with indelible ink, such as a Sharpie, will come in handy.

Moisturizer

Amazingly enough, ordinary hand creams contain the same active ingredients as the most elegant, allegedly refined facial moisturizers. Look for one that has little or no perfume, so that it doesn’t clash with your favorite fragrance or annoy by filling your nostrils with some industrial chemist’s idea of what women want to rub on their hands. Keri and Cetaphil are excellent choices.

Pour a little of this into one of the plastic bottles and screw on the cap tightly. Use your sharpie to mark the contents. You can use this cream for your face as well as other parts of your body.

Worried about drying around the eyes? A light touch of Vaseline will prevent that, no matter how desiccating the motel’s air-conditioning or the sea breezes. Get the smallest container available, and apply a thin layer where you feel your skin is especially dry. Use with restraint, to avoid creating a shiny effect.

Sunblock

Neutrogena makes a very fine sunblocker, available in grocery stores and drugstores. It’s nongreasy, noncomedogenic, odorless, and effective. Transfer some of this into a small plastic bottle so you can easily pack a little in your carry-on. Pack Neutrogena’s big bottle in the check-through. That way you’ll at least have enough to last a day or so, while you wait for lost luggage to catch up with you or get around to buying more products.

Foundation

Drugstore makeup. If you’re not used to buying foundation in the drugstore, be aware that you usually can open the bottles in the store and test them on the back of your hand. Of course, your hand isn’t exactly the same color as your face, but it’s close enough. Better brands are L’Oréal, Revlon, and Almay. The coverage and effect is identical to those of the brands you buy at expensive venues. Some of these products contain sunblockers with significant SPF protection, so if you’re planning an outdoorsy vacation, check those out.

Not long ago, for example, I was at Saks Fifth Avenue, where I allowed a cosmetics saleswoman to give me one of those “makeovers” in which they demonstrate their products and try to persuade you to go into hock to buy every item in a line. The cosmetician remarked that the makeup I had on was exceptionally good. I said it was Almay. She looked blankly at me-never heard of the stuff.

Compared to the Yves Saint Laurent makeup she put on my face that day, I’d say it more than held its own.

Drugstore cosmetics — the same brands are often available at Target and WalMart — are often on sale and so cheap you can afford to buy more than one bottle if you’re not sure which color is right. I’ve found that Walgreen’s will let you return a color that doesn’t work. Walgreen’s also sometimes stations a salesclerk in the cosmetics department who has been trained to work with make-up. These women are very good at helping you identify the right foundation colors.

Powder

If you use powder in a compact, you should be able to carry this on a plane. Drop it in your handbag or carry-on. If you use loose powder, substitute compact-style powder purchased at the drugstore cosmetic counter. Another option is to purchase make-up billed as foundation and powder together. It comes in compacts and is easy to carry on a plane.

You may want to consider foregoing powder while on vacation. It really isn’t necessary. And if you’re of a certain age, powder doesn’t “set” your makeup: it settles it: into the lines of your wrinkles, making them stand out like the canyons on the face of Mars.

Coverup

An extra dab of foundation will cover most minor flaws. Otherwise, check the drugstore counters for inexpensive tubes of coverup. L’Oréal packages an especially effective one in a small, lightweight tube.

Blusher

Since pressed powders are unlikely to be mistaken for bombs, you probably can get away with tossing this in your handbag, carry-on, or backpack. If you use a liquid or cream blusher, buy an inexpensive powdered version and a fluffy brush at the drugstore cosmetics counter. You can apply it with a cotton ball, but a brush is much easier and nicer.

Blusher also often can be dispensed with. Experiment: you may find you don’t really need it, especially if you’ll be outside a lot.

Eye shadow

Here, too, if you use liquid or cream eye shadow, substitute an inexpensive powder shadow in a neutral color. A readily available combination is a light beige or pale tan with a midrange brown for the accent color. Sometimes you can find translucent golds, which look awesome on darker complexions…and on any face at the beach.

Eyeliner

Not a likely bomb. Bring your fave eyeliner along, stashed in your handbag or carryon. Or buy an inexpensive version at the drugstore, one that can get lost without any loss to the budget.

Mascara

Ditto.

Eyebrow pencil

If you color your eyebrows and your hair is brown, you can use your powder eyeshadow as eyebrow pencil, assuming you selected a tan/brown combination. Get a stiff, slanted eyebrow brush and use it to apply the shadow. If your hair is very dark, you’ll probably have to use actual eyebrow makeup.

Shampoo and Conditioner

Brace yourselves now. Shampoo is really nothing more than detergent. That’s right. It’s dish detergent. You actually can wash your hair with Dove or Ivory, whose scents are inoffensive. After a rinse with hair conditioner, you can’t tell the difference between the results from shampoo and the results from ordinary detergent.

If I’m carrying clothing that I will have to wash by hand, I bring along some Woolite. It works just fine to shampoo your hair, and you don’t have to carry two bottles of wash stuff. If your clothes will go to the cleaners or the laundromat, bring a little shampoo or detergent in one of your small plastic bottles.

You should bring conditioner, though, in case you stay in a hotel or other lodging that doesn’t supply it. Put detergent or shampoo and conditioner in small bottles for the carry-on kit. If you’re going to be gone more than a couple of days, pack the regular-sized bottles in your check-through suitcase.

If the detergent concept is too scary, check the sample-size bin at the drugstore or dollar store and pick up small containers of shampoo and conditioner that will fit in your carry-on.

Facial cleanser

Hang on to your hats, ladies. Soap will not hurt your face! Au contraire, it’s good for your face. When I was checking in to the Mayo Clinic for an appendectomy, I had to state my age. The nurse looked at me and said I couldn’t possibly be that old. “Of course I am,” said I. “Well,” she said, you sure don’t look your age.” This was after 25 sleepless hours of excruciating pain.

Fact is, I’ve been washing my face with soap and water since I was 12 years old. Apparently it hasn’t done any harm.

Plan to use the hotel’s soap. If you’re going camping, bring a bar with a moisturizer, such as Dove. Carry it in a small ziplock baggie.

Makeup Remover

Soap. Wet a bar of soap and dampen a washcloth. Wrap part of the damp washcloth around your index finger and rub some soap on the cloth. Use this to remove mascara that has run under your eyes. Wipe carefully, keeping your eyes closed, with the washcloth and warm water.

If this is too spooky, baby oil will do the trick. Stash some in another of the little bottles, and bring some cotton balls or pads.

Naturally, take your contact lenses out before applying either of these around your eyes.

Toner

A toner is nothing but a slightly acetic astringent with some perfume added. You can buy inexpensive toners at a drugstore, or you can dilute a little vinegar 50-50 with water for the purpose. Whichever you choose, store some of it in one of the small plastic bottles, and mark accordingly.

Packing It

Whether you’re trying to fit the loot in a carry-on or packing it in a check-through suitcase, remember to put all the bottles containing liquids inside a ziplock bag! Zip this tightly shut. You will have to present this at the security gage. For check-throughs, you may want to drop the first bag inside a second bag and zip that shut, too. This will prevent leakage inside your suitcase – assuming the TSA doesn’t pull the bags open and neglect to reclose them. Try using your Sharpie to label them with a polite request to reseal them.

This is where you can see the advantage of preferring powder and compact products to liquids. The more items come in plastic compacts, the more you can get into your purse or carry-on without being hassled. Transferring liquids into small bottles ups your chances of being able to fit the entire collection into a carry-on. But even if you have to check it through: if it gets lost, it’s no tragedy. You can replace the stuff inexpensively on the other end.

Tags: travel, baggage, packin

Not all Costco gas is equal

The other day while I was at Costco topping off my gas tank with the last gasoline priced under $4 in the future history of humankind, SDXB happened to go into the Costco on his side of town for the same purpose.

He paid $3.86 a gallon.

Say what? I paid $3.93 a gallon: a seven-cent-a-gallon difference! Same day, same time of day, same retailer.

Only difference as far as we can tell is the demographics. My Costco is a ghetto store that serves a downscale clientele in a tough part of town. His Costco, located on the booming westside, caters to the upper middle class and a large, relatively affluent retirement community.

Why, one might ask, should low-income customers have to pay seven cents a gallon more than people who can afford an extra ding at the pump? Beats me. Only thing I can figure is Costco must figure us pore folks are too dumb to know better, too lazy to drive across town to get a better price, or too broke to run our cars far enough to get out of the ‘hood.

This has long been so of grocery store prices: they’re always higher in areas where many of the customers don’t own cars. A friend worked as the manager of a ghetto grocery store, and he reported that they jacked up prices across the board because they had a captive audience of people who either could not or would not drive further afield to buy food and household products. Maybe Costco does the same.

Message: If you live in a downscale area, consider driving to a more affluent district to seek better prices.

4 Comments left on iWeb site

BeThisWay

I noticed that same thing about grocery stores long ago.Touristy areas also always charge an arm and a leg, too.

It’s good to know, though, while planning your purchases. I often bring non-perishables on vacation just to avoid that type of gouging as much as possible.And if you need gas and are going to see SDXB or have to be in the other Costco area anyway, you can do your fill-ups there.

Tuesday, June 10, 200808:38 AM

Karen

A Costco representative came to my business awhile back to sell memberships, and she they do price the gas individually.Basically, people go out in the morning in the immediate area and compare the local prices so they can price just below all of them.
But as some areas are more expensive than others, two Costcos in my city that are 30 miles apart will definitely have different prices.
Needless to say, I go to the “ghetto” Costco when I need gas.:-)

Thursday, June 12, 200807:27 AM

Karen

P.S.I realize this is the opposite than what you experienced, but it may have also been timing.
I’ve gone to fill up twice in one day for our second car at Costco, and paid a different price!

Thursday, June 12, 200807:30 AM

vh

It’s true that in general gas prices are lower on the westside. That may account for the difference.

But we pay dues for the privilege of spending our money at Costco. That should buy us consistent and fair pricing across the board–not a gouge because we live in a downscale neighborhood a few miles away from a different neighborhood in the same city. That’s unfair and unreasonable.