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When You’re Garage Saling, Stay Focused!

Or you may end up with knick-knacks and paddy-whacks, like me...

So the last couple of weeks have been freakin’ fantastic around here when it comes to garage saling. Luckily for me, I live in the quasi-boonies but still close in enough to take advantage of sales in some pretty classy suburban neighborhoods.

In fact, these neighborhoods think highly enough of themselves that I have a feeling their Home Owners Associations prevent individual families from staging sales at will, and only allow the garage doors to be opened and the stuff hauled out onto the driveway on one week-end per year.

Yes, I am the beneficiary of multitudes of Neighborhood Garage Sales, where you can literally park your car once and visit four or five sales before moving on down the road. I am learning, though, that the blessings of so many sales assaulting my sensibilities all at once can easily be mitigated by some devious drawbacks.

Last week, for example, I dragged my hubby with me for an hour of pennies-on-the-dollar enjoyment and we happened upon this gentleman who collected antique glass dishes, plates, vases, etc. He had it all displayed in china cupboards and on handsome bookcases in his garage, which looked almost like a permanent installation now that I think back on it.

He spoke so lovingly of each piece as we ooohed and aaahed over it, that we started to feel a bit guilty, since we both realized that we had no intention of buying anything at all. The last thing we need is another piece of Depression glass, as much as I love it and cherish the items I already have.

We’re looking for preps, people! Tools! Non-electric small appliances! Coleman camping lanterns, still in the box! And yes, books. Always books. No girlvivalist is perfect, you know.

But here was this fellow who’d obviously fallen on hard enough times that he had no choice but to begin liquidating the collection he still clearly loved. And he was taking the time to bring us up to speed on the nuanced differences in color between the blue glass pressed in the fifties and the new-fangled items made in the sixties. He invested in us!

And so what did I do? I fell in love with a etched glass vanity dish, topped with a plated silver lid. And then my husband, who tends to buy me everything I sigh over if I don’t bodily prevent him, pulled out his wallet and handed over the cash.

All the way to the car I mumbled, “Why did I buy this? Do I need any more do-dads for the rest of my born days?”

Then, of course, we had no choice but to keep scavenging through the neighborhood until we found items which we really DID need, or which we could repurpose into something truly useful to us. In other words, I had to spend more money in order to “average down” the money I’d just spent! Sheesh.

Well, it turned out OK, after all. We discovered a bunch of hardback books marked 50 cents and when the lady saw us shuffling through them, she said, “Let’s say a quarter each. I do NOT want to take them back in the house.” We now have reading material (both fiction and non) ahead for a year if not longer, and have spent a total of about $15 on 40 or so hardbacks—-all of which we can sell at Half Price Books or donate and take the tax deduction.

I got a blouse with a $26 price tag still hanging from it for $1. I got a set of shower curtain rings, still in their box, for free, and two large pillar candles for 25 cents each.

And finally, the piece de resistance: We found a fantastically durable wrought iron table base (with no top) for FREE. Next spring, we’ll use this base to hold several large rectangular planters full of veggies. Waist-high gardening is our thing!

Every once in a while, I flub up and buy something silly at a garage sale. But even then, if I persevere, I end up coming home with some truly wonderful finds for little to no money. And if I stay focused on items that will improve our situation long-term or bring some genuine joy to our lives in the short run (like novels!), garage saling often turns out to be a worthy venture.

Any good garage sales in your area this spring? I will gladly share bragging rights with you! And a silver-lidded glass jar, too, if you need one.

Freeing Up Cash For What You Need

Even if what you think you need is what you're paying for right now....

Monthly expenses. Who doesn’t wish they could whittle them down with little or no change in lifestyle?

Ooooh, the lifestyle word. As far as I’m concerned lifestyle is something most of us have paid a huge premium for, and we don’t even know what—-if anything—-we’ve gotten in return. Let me illustrate.

Sixteen years ago, when we were huddled over preliminary blueprints working with an architect to design our house, he got a serious look on his face and asked, “Tell me about your lifestyle.”

Honestly, I don’t know when we’ve ever laughed so hard. We were raising three kids on a budget, sacrificing things other families considered “normal” (like cars with basic amenities like sun visors and horns) in order to pay tuition at the Christian school, which we had prioritized over other uses for our money. But we’d scrimped and saved to buy a small acreage and now intended to build a modest home with the intention of staying there for many years.

When he pressed us to identify our hobbies, indulgences, and extravagances and our eyes glazed over, he finally rephrased, “What’s the one problem you’d like to solve with this house?”

Now he was speaking my language! I instantly knew the answer and couldn’t wait to share.

“The sock problem!” I said. I had read how Ethel Kennedy, when her brood was young, kept all the clean socks in the deep bottom drawer of her kitchen and let the kids scrounge for matches. Let’s just say she was WAY more organized than I.

“Sock,” he said, dumbfounded but definitely not dumb.

“Yes. If you could design my house in such a way that each member of the family could always find their clean socks, I would be completely happy.”

“Don’t worry about a thing.” He smirked and had a twinkle in his eye. Kind of a swirly twinkle, actually, sort of the shape of a dollar sign. “I can solve the sock problem.”

A series of shallow shelves in the laundry room, each one holding a clear Rubbermaid bin which slides out and contains one of five family member’s socks, improved our lifestyle by miles! But did it really take an architect to figure that out? I’m thinking, not so much.

These days, three of those bins are empty. The time has come to seriously reconsider how many other “sock problems” we’ve spent our hard-earned money on. However we’ve inadvertently ramped up our lifestyle in the past fifteen years in ways that no longer make sense, we are now determined to take it down as many notches as necessary for the sake of our future.

How can it be that not long ago, we believed Starbucks was something akin to a right? How could we have ever thought cable a necessity? How did it elude us that you can purchase “New Car Smell” in a can and save a boatload of money?

The thing is, I’ve always counted myself frugal. And yet until recently, while I would never pay a fee to use an ATM machine, I didn’t question the fact that my checking account had a monthly service charge attached to it. And our business checking account did, as well. $240 per year for the business and $180 for the personal account? I won’t even admit how many years I paid these fees until I finally switched to a regional bank and put the kabosh on the rip-off.

Nickel and diming my way to lowered expenses, thus freeing up cash for items and services (and savings accounts!) with genuine value for the lives we’re living now, is one strategy. But I much prefer to go after the big-ticket cash outlays and attempt to bring them under control at every opportunity. So far in 2009, we’ve updated my husband’s life insurance policies for a significant annual savings, raised the deductibles on our homeowners and car insurance (in the process discovering a $600 overcharge we were refunded) for much lower premiums, bundled some of our communications services and ditched a cell phone in favor of sharing, and are nearly ready to close on our house refinance.

We locked in a rate of 4.625% for ten years. We only had 11 years left on a 5.875% loan, and while this refi doesn’t sound like it would make a tremendous difference in either monthly outlay or total amount paid, it does. We’ll be paying several hundred dollars less per month (can you say beefed up emergency fund?) and will save $25,000 in interest over the life of the loan if we don’t pay it off early.

When you really get down to it and behave ruthlessly toward some of your larger expenses, you too may find that you can make some changes that don’t affect your quality of life (*ahem* lifestyle) at all, but put money back in your pocket for uses more in line with your purposes as a bona fide girlvivalist.

If you haven’t started whacking away at your monthly expenses, give it a try! I hope imagining how much I paid to solve my sock problem is all it takes to motivate you to bring those line items under control.

Hey, how’s this? For every $50 per month you cut back, buy yourself a cute pair of socks.

Can Delayed Gratification Be Its Own Reward?

Or, what if you sacrifice now for later, and end up with neither?

One of the happiest truths I’ve ever discovered is that I can find real joy in delayed gratification.

It’s a good thing, too. Because sometimes I make some dandy plans to cut out this and postpone that, only to find out that our income is about to get axed unexpectedly and we’re going to end up unable to afford this, that, or the other thing.

But what about the sacrifice I’m making in order to save money for a new car? Hey, I could have fake nails and an unrealistic tan and some tatoos that look a lot different after I gain ten pounds, if only I didn’t defer gratification. The LEAST I expect for denying myself those small pleasures (and many more) is to be able, in the final analysis, to spend my hard-saved money on something I truly want and need!

And yes, I’ve got a car fund. But our lives, in spite of our wonderful intentions, often interfere with our best laid plans. What if, instead of a new car, we need that money to cover economy-related down times with our business? What if we realize that we aren’t nearly as prepared for emergencies as we should/could be, and that a used car would meet our needs and give us some cash to further bolster our efforts toward self-reliance?

It’s a blessing in life if you find you can be content with the basics of food and clothing and shelter. It’s a fantastic blessing if you can train yourself to bypass what you think you want right this second in favor of what you’re reasonably certain you’ll need next month or next year.

And if it turns out that your fully-funded travel account, which you intended to spend on a cruise, instead is called upon to get your through a short term disability you had no way of predicting, well. How exactly is that a bad thing?

You’ll get your chance to travel, and in the meantime, you’ve been able to provide for a shortfall without having to take out another mortgage on the house or top off the credit cards.

That, to me, is the kind of instant gratification that thrills me no end—-being able to function as our own mini-bailout program.

I love it that delayed gratification really can be its own reward, and as an added bonus, I’ll never have to worry about a tiny rosebud tat on my rear end turning into a giant overblown peony.

I’m just sayin’.


The Buy Ahead Principle: One Of My Biggest Grocery Saving Secrets

How is it that we can eat a fairly balanced diet when I buy such an odd assortment of groceries each week? It's because the bulk of our meals are based upon what we already have in our refrigerator, pantry, and freezer.

We Don’t Buy Stuff. Except When We Do

When it comes to buying stuff, I'm still fiercely frugal. I drive a 17-year-old car and won't even think of replacing our battered kitchen appliances. The last major "toy" I bought myself was a 40-year-old South Bend 10K metal lathe for $1,500 four years ago, but that doesn't count because it's a tool.

Taking Comfort In Small Joys

As a resident of Marlinton told me, "When you got nothin', you got nothin' to lose. That's recession in West Virginia."

Live Off The Land—In The City

Wild greens, mushrooms, fruit and even fish and game can be harvested in America's urban jungles. Dandelion salad, anyone? Or some batter-fried squirrel?



Serving up fresh, money-saving tips daily. No reservations necessary!

The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm buckled down and got out serious about personal finance (and debt control!) at a young age. Trust me, you will benefit from his wisdom!

Get Rich Slowly

Get Rich Slowly is part philosophy, part psychology, and part good old-fashioned financial common sense. Oh, and with wonderful gardening tips, too!

The 99 Cent Chef

Billy Vasquez, aka The 99 Cent Chef, finds and cooks great 99 cent meals, and includes impressive photos and videos.

True North Found

Ongoing story of a family who turns to homesteading, complete with lots of how-to info, humor, and inspiration.

Homestead: Rural Living Principle And Practice

The Retro Housewife

Hillbilly Housewife

Frugal To Rich

Make It From Scratch

The Grocery Shrink Blog

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