Coffee heat rising

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.

Coupons

So I make a run on the Safeway on the way home from work, neatly combining a shopping trip with the commute. As I’m forking over $68 and thinking the prices have gone through the roof since my last visit, several weeks ago, the cashier hands me a coupon book.

Excellent, I think. This will be my introduction to couponing, a feature of my month of (not-quite-)extreme frugality.

Other bloggers sing the praises of coupons and swear you can get out of CVS with free products by combining cents-off coupons with sales. The purse-stuffing little pieces of paper evidently save costs in many stores, such as Safeway. I’ve never made a habit of using them, mostly because I think they’re a nuisance-I have enough paper to keep track of, thanks-and also because I rarely find a coupon for anything I want. To get the cents off, you either have to buy a product you ordinarily would not buy or switch brands. And when I select a brand, it’s usually for a reason.

Home at last, the groceries put away, and a glass of orange juice poured. Let’s take a look at what we have in the coupon book:

  • Spend fifty bucks at Safeway and you get a free reusable, environmentally friendly shopping bag, advertising Safeway. Unclear whether it’s canvas or just heavy-duty paper. If the former, sure; I’d buy $50 worth of groceries at Safeway for the privilege of carrying around its billboard. If the latter: I have enough paper to keep track of, thanks.
  • Two bucks off O Organics salad mix. Okay, I use that stuff and would be happy to…you have to buy a pound of it? Who do they think they are, Costco? If I buy a pound of cut-up lettuce, half of it will spoil before I can eat it. Penny-wise, pound-foolish.
  • Three bucks off a foliage plant. That’s nice. But my house is full of plants. They’re the only part of the clutter I didn’t get rid of during the Late Great Decluttering Campaign, because I can’t bring myself to do in a living thing. So I have enough houseplants to water, thanks.
  • One dollah off two Contessa Green Cuisine Meals. I don’t eat processed, prepackaged food. So this one doesn’t count. Two of them don’t count times two.
  • A dollar off two 12-packs of Diet Pepsi. Ick!!! Wonder if they have a coupon for orange juice?
  • A dollar off a bag of cheddar-flavored or vinegar-flavored potato chips. Uhm…I don’t suppose I could just have the cheddar cheese (real cheddar cheese, OK? not a “flavor”) or a nice bottle of vinegar? I don’t eat potato chips, unless forced to it by famine.
  • Two bucks off Yuban canned coffee. I don’t care for preground canned coffee. They put the cheapest, ickiest, most muddy-tasting coffee beans they can find in that stuff. Moving on…
  • A buck off two SunChips snacks. “Snacks”? No clue what the stuff is, but apparently it’s made at a factory where they use solar energy. There’s a good reason to buy it. Whatever it is, it doesn’t appear to be food.
  • A dollar off Miracle Whip. Ecchhh! What is the appeal of that stuff? I’ve never been able to figure it out.
  • A dollar off Back to Nature Granola. Why? Why would anybody buy granola? I make my own for a tiny fraction of the cost. It tastes better (a lot better), I control the ingredients, and it’s way, way lower in fat.
  • A dollar off four Campbell’s condensed salt licks…oh, sorry, condensed canned soup. Here’s a Warholesque image of a can of tomato soup. Campbell’s soup is another of those processed products that palely imitate real food. And the stuff is absurdly expensive, especially considering that many varieties are little more than “flavored” flour paste. Swanson’s is significantly better and that company offers low-salt chicken and beef broth. It’s mighty easy to make your own tomato soup with a can of tomatoes and half an onion. The stuff tastes ten times better and doesn’t leave your mouth puckered up.
  • Speaking of thirst, you get a buck off two six-packs of Nestle’s bottled water, in The Eco-Shape Bottle. Thirty percent less plastic than the average half-liter. “A little natural does a lot of good.” Haw haw haw haw haw! Funniest darn thing I’ve read in weeks. A plastic bottle is a plastic bottle, dear Nestle’s. Water is water. Most bottled water is tap water. Bottling it in plastic does nothing to improve it. Water sold in any plastic bottles still dumps zillions of unnecessary plastic bottles into the land fills, there to stay for all eternity, until the earth is a frigid cinder circling a burnt-out dwarf star. “A little natural does a lot of good,” eh? A little natural what?
  • Speaking of salt, as we were a moment ago, you can get another dollah off Annie Chun’s Soup Bowl or Noodle Bowl. Yum. To assuage the resulting thirst, pick up a 24-pack of Coca-Cola, rotting your teeth and fattening your belly for a buck off.
  • If you like your sugar intake organic, get yourself two 12-ounce jars of organic fruit “spreads” (and what would that be? we’re not allowed to call it jam or jelly?) or 16 ounces of natural (as opposed to “unnatural”) or organic (as opposed, one figures, to “inorganic”) peanut butter. Could be worse, I suppose. Could be the salted soup or noodle bowls.
  • Buy some “pure goodness”TM for a buck off two packages of Cascadian Farm products. Several strange-looking boxes are pictured, labeled “strawberry,” “oats and honey,” and “organic” somethingorother. Whatever it is, I don’t think I want to put it in my mouth.
  • Fifty-five cents off 64 or more ounces of Silk soymilk. Well, OK, if you think it helps your menopausal symptoms, more power to you. Me, I’ll take a glass of nice, cold water. Tap water. Hold the plastic, please.
  • Fifty cents off Clif, Luna, or Builder’s Bar. “Moving toward Sustainability” is this manufacturer’s motto: we’re told this outfit uses 70% organic ingredients (as opposed to inorganic ingredients), 30% to 50% less fossil fuels than conventional farming (but where does it say here that the company is a farm? it makes candy bars!), 450,000 pounds of shrink-wrap eliminated through redesign of packaging (good, good), 20,000 miles of shipping using bio-diesel fuel (oh, please, please, please smarten up, dear corporate executives!). Bars. It’s bars. Bars of what, we don’t know, but whatever it is, 30% of it ain’t organic. One of them has chocolate chips. Your kids can wash them down with some of that Coke and Pepsi you saved on above.
  • Make your soy Westsoy!” A dollar off four Westsoy, soy, or rice drinks. Urp!

Soylent Green is people!

  • Well, here we have the opiate of the masses: yes, yes, yes!!!!!! FREE (with coupon) BEN & JERRY’S MINI CUP. Yes. Three-point-six ounces of Ben & Jerry’s! I knew these coupons were good for something. We will be dropping by the Safeway on th’way home from work tomorrow.
  • “Organic Herbal Teas for Self Care”” a buck off a couple of ersatz nutraceuticals, teas that allege to sooth your sore throat and stimulate your bowels. For a buck off, you, too, can start a practice as your own snake-oil quack! No nuisancey medical school required!
  • A dollar off two packages of “Nature’s Balance Bath Tissue.” Ah! I used “nature’s balance bath tissue” during that time SDXB and I spent three months sleeping on the ground in the outback of Alaska and Canada. It was called “leaves.” Didn’t cost anything, so we didn’t need to ask for cents off.
  • Fifty cents off a bottle of astronomically expensive Tide high-efficiency detergent. Every penny counts, I guess.
  • A buck off Planet 2x Ultra Laundry Detergent. Take that, Tide!
  • A buck off any Green Works item. Hm. I’ve heard this stuff actually functions. I might try that. Now we have two reasons to go back to Safeway, the Ben & Jerry’s and…waitminit. The stuff is made by Clorox? Clorox is making “natural” cleaners (as though any household cleansers were not unnatural)? Well. No wonder it works. “Made from plant- and mineral-based ingredients.” That explains why it “contains no harsh chemical fumes or residue.” Heaven only knows mineral-based ingredients like petroleum products are gentle, and so are plant-based ingredients like, oh…cocaine.
  • A buck off Purex Natural Elements Liquid Detergent. To their credit, Purex’s ad designers refrain from ridiculous sloganeering, double-talk, and empty phrases.
  • A dollar off All Small & Mighty Laundry Detergent. It’s concentrated. According to the ad copy in the front of the coupon book, concentrated is good. Very good. But I have a lifetime supply of Kirkland out by the washer.
  • Suave has also cooked up a design alleged to use less plastic: 13,863,828 fewer plastic bottles each year! Dang! Could we see the math on that, please? And how do the stockholders feel about your selling that much less shampoo?
  • Method handwash chemical-gel, creamy, or foaming: 75 cents off. Personally, I prefer bar soap. It has less wetting agent, so when you wash your face with ordinary soap, it doesn’t flow right straight into your eyes. Is there a reason we need different products to wash our faces and our hands? What is it?
  • Free box of o.b. tampons. Thank God I’ll never have to use those little gems again.
  • Oh, jeez! FIVE DOLLAH OFF A BRITA PITCHER OR THREE-PACK FILTER! Sold!
  • And finally, two bucks off a package of Duracell rechrgeable batteries, or a charger. Duracell has figured out that “rechargeable” justifies printing the word on the batteries in a green label. Green, rechargeable. Rechargeble, green. What’s inside one of those things, anyway?

Now we have three objects to get on the next shopping trip:

  • 1. 1 free 3.6-ounce container of Ben & Jerry’s (which I would never have thought about without this fine offer)
  • 2. 1 Clorox product, alleged to be, uhm, not unnatural
  • 3. 3 Brita filters. Or maybe a pitcher for the office.

Notice what’s happening here. Though we’ve rejected most of the blandishments, a few of which are come-ons for some truly noxious-sounding (and two or three proven noxious) products, we still propose a trip to the store for three new products, two of which we do not need. One is free. But after the free sample, how many of us will get out of the store without buying a pint (at least!) of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough Ice Cream? Or maybe that double-whammy chocolate stuff? I need the Brita filters, the better to make our tap water potable. But free calories? Another Clorox chemical? In any event, the coupons save six dollars, but I spend whatever the Clorox product costs and whatever the Brita filters cost (plenty, as I recall).

Because you have to buy the Clorox product before May 26 and I already own two gallon bottles of Simple Green, I’m required to buy a product that I don’t need and won’t need for many months…possibly not for a year or two. Come to think of it, three Brita filters are sitting in the kitchen cabinet.

With the exception of a few household products, most of this stuff is junk food or highly processed food “products” that are full of salt, sugar, and weird chemicals. Exactly one item of fresh food appears: prewashed, precut lettuce that a) costs more than a head of lettuce and b) is likely to spoil before one person (moi) can consume it all.

We’ve spent a quarter of an hour leafing through and contemplating this pack of coupons, only one of which really is worth anything. That is, at $30/hour, we’ve spent about $7.50 of my time to save $6 on products that I already have. And…why are these coupons are good for us again?

Seven ways to save money on clothes and cut shopping stress

Like a shot, it was out the door to the mall to buy some much-needed office togs on mega-sale. Talbot’s, my favorite vendor of grownup-appropriate clothing, provided two pairs of washable wool slacks – 40-freaking-PERCENT off! – plus a beautifully designed blouse and a very snazzy blazer at the same markdown. Chico’s sold me a very pretty gray sweater (also washable) at half price to go with the dressy gray Talbot’s slacks, and of course no trip to the Biltmore is complete without a stop at the Apple store. . . .

So smug do I feel about these little coups that I presume to offer my pointers for saving dough at the mall:

1. Shop the sales around major holidays, especially the post-Christmas season. Never pay full price for anything.

2. Reconnoitre your wardrobe before leaving the house. Have a clear idea of what items you need and in what colors. If more than two or three items are needed, make a list. Shop only for those things; don’t spend time window-shopping or browsing through racks of tempting but irrelevant items.

3. Go straight to stores where you have had success before. Avoid departments or shops whose clothes don’t fit well or aren’t your style, and stay away from stores where staff have been rude, pushy, or inattentive in the past.

4. Never shop when you’re feeling especially cheerful or blue; either cast of mind can lead you to overspend.

5. Shop alone. Shopping is a herd activity – you may find yourself buying things for no other reason than that your friend bought something.

6. If it fits and you really like it, get it. If it doesn’t quite fit right or you’re not so sure it’s the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever wrapped around your body, leave it.

7. Learn to embroider and appliqué. With a needle and some colored thread, you can make a $20 pair of Glorias from Costco look like a $200 pair of designer jeans.

How do you feel about shopping for clothes, and what do you do to minimize shopping angst? What are your strategies for getting the best value for your clothing dollars?