Why shop resale – getting a $255 buy for $40

click for full size

click for full size

Earlier this week, Little Cheap and I hit up the Savers location that was so good to us about a year ago. At that time, we found some paddock boots that Little Cheap needed for riding classes for $5.99, a great toy (a horse that walks for $2) and some other things too.

No paddock boots this time (darn!), but we did find two Breyer horses, which Little Cheap collects. She was pleased to tell me that the two for $3 and $2 was an amazing savings, because they regularly run from $15 to $50 new.

We stocked up on some clothes for fall (and falls to come). This shopping trip gives a glimpse into how we often shop to save big time. Everything isn’t organic or fair trade. But by buying used, we are keeping the general flow of goods down. And especially for children, it’s easy to find great brands in amazing condition. We buy designer clothes at Target-clearance prices.

Here’s the breakdown of what’s in that photo — and what we saved.

  • Ugly (“but I LIKE it, Mom!”) bandana print shirt – $2.99 – similar to what I’d pay on Target clearance, similar quality. Size L.
  • Ugly (“but I LIKE it, Mom!”) plaid polyester nightgown – $0.99 – the price is right! I think it was picked because it looks a bit Little House on the Prairie-ish. Size M. At least $6 on Target clearance. Savings: $5.
  • Burton kids snowboard jacket in new condition – $6.99. Gussets everywhere, pockets, a clear sleeve for your ski pass (my family and friends just fell off their chairs laughing, imagining our family skiing). Awesome! Size 10. This will be the jacket after this year. It will be great for the outdoor field trips at her experiential learning school when she grows into it. This jacket is similar and retails for $129. Retail savings: At least $90.
  • Gap puffy vest – $5.99. This is good for my kid who doesn’t want to wear a coat. Size S — she will only wear this this year. Compares at at least $39.50 retail. Retail savings: $33.
  • Leopard-print PJs – $3.99. “Those are kind of foofy, mom.” “They’re just PAJAMAS. They are like new and in your size. You’ll wear them.” “OK.” Ah, enjoy it while it lasts. Compare at around $15 retail. Savings: $11.
  • Polo T with horses on it and brown T with flowers on it – $2.99 each. About what I would pay on Target clearance.
  • Gymboree girls velour “Autumn Leaves” dress – $5.99. Size 10. Again for the future. Little Cheap had just announced she would not wear dresses when we saw this one and she said, “Well, maybe that one …” Retails at $32.50. eBay price is at least $14. Retail savings: $26.50.
  • Hanna Andersson girls cropped black pants with ribbon trim – $2.99. Size 120cm (about a size 7/8). Little Cheap loves knit pants and loved these on sight. She’ll wear them a lot this year, I suspect. Retailed for at least $30. Savings: $27.

So, how did we do? Our total savings over retail price was $192.50 not counting the cheap T-shirts I’d only buy on clearance. If you add $7 to each of those for their retail price of $10 or so, we saved more like $215.

That’s an 84 percent savings over the retail value.

Best of all, we’re recycling old stuff … and generally getting nicer stuff than I would buy new, for thrift-store prices.

Other places to find great deals include:

  • Consignment shops. Trade in your outgrown clothes for credit or cash.
  • Thrift stores, especially in nice neighborhoods where the goods are good.
  • Department store sales — I have found some amazing deals at Macy’s clearance (I never buy anything full-price there) — like pajamas for $2 and a gorgeous girls Christmas dress for $7 marked down from $62.
  • eBay.
  • Craigslist and Freecycle.

And did you notice some of those sizes? Little Cheap wears a 7. When I see something great for us, I snap it up. I have a whole bin full of clothes in the laundry room, marked “Not yet grown into.” When the season changes, we open it up, and as Little Cheap said this spring, “It’s like Christmas again!” Sometimes I don’t even remember what’s in there, especially if it’s been a year or two. If you shop that far ahead, do remember to review the bin before you start shopping. It would be such a bummer to buy a new winter coat when you have a $7 snowboard jacket in there already.

Speaking of winter, I’ve got to get my eyes peeled this year. I’m looking for a little something warm and sturdy in a generous size to hold us over for two years, till that one fits …


It’s not easy remodeling green AND cheap – my $800 bathroom redo

bathroom before

Bathroom before

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve done cosmetic surgery on our bathroom. Our house has two bedrooms and one bathroom on the main level. When we moved in three years ago, a previous owner had redone the bathroom with a pedestal sink and some cheap melamine cabinets.

The decor included features like purple paint (almost every room in our house has a purplish-toned paint), a mirror in which Mr. Cheap could not see his head and cabinets that looked like they were exploding as water had caused the composite shelves to puff up.

More than a year ago, I decided it was time to make some changes. I set aside some money to pay for a new vanity and I started shopping. Well, virtual shopping: Every month or so I would take a trip to local home stores and check out online sites looking for that perfect vanity. It needed to meet several criteria: it needed to be 28 inches wide or less, I hoped it would have drawers for storage, and I needed to find a wall cabinet that matched vanity. In addition, I wanted a sink surface where I could set things down — like my makeup bag — when I was getting ready in the morning.

My plans were to redo the bathroom last summer. In reality, I just completed the project last night. Here’s how it went.

Bathroom after

Bathroom after

Choosing the vanity. As I alluded to above, I looked for a vanity for more than a year. I finally found something that would work — sizewise and stylewise — at Costco online. It came with a mirror that, wonder of wonders, lets Mr. Cheap see his face. Green score: It’s not green; it was shipped all the way from China. Cheap score: The vanity and mirror came out at one of the lower prices I’ve seen for what appears to be a quality piece — $500 including shipping.
Choosing the cabinets. Once I had the vanity picked out I started looking for cabinets that match the wood. Eventually, I settled on Overstock.com, which has a wide selection. In fact, they even have some green options there. Unfortunately, the green options were more expensive and came only in natural pine. If I were looking for a rustic or Scandinavian look, maybe I could’ve pulled it off. But of course they didn’t offer any matching natural pine vanity. So that was out. Green score: Again, not green. Shipped from China. Cheap score: Just over $100 for two cabinets including shipping.

Bathroom before
Bathroom after

Bathroom after

Bathroom before

The paint. Every time I paint something I plan to buy low-VOC paint. This time, I even thought of it as we were choosing our colors. Then I went up to the paint counter and purchased regular paint. Green score: Argh. Cheap score: Excellent! Before I purchased I went online and found a $10 off coupon for a purchase at Lowe’s using a Visa card. (Hurry, shoppers! It’s good through today.) That made the paint about $20 a gallon. When we got up to the counter we discovered that we qualify for a $5 per gallon mail-in rebate, bringing the total to $15 a gallon — and it’s good paint.

The hardware. I had to buy a new faucet, because the holes are farther apart than our old sink. Those puppies aren’t cheap. Green score: Doubtful; it’s just a regular faucet from Home Depot. Cheap score: Very low — although I selected one of the less expensive faucets, it was nearly $140.

The plumbing and labor. I did all the painting and plumbing work myself, which we estimate saved about $500 minimum. It was not especially difficult, just a bit annoying. One of the most frustrating aspects was that tightening the water shutoff valves took 25 minutes because they were so stiff. We purchased very little new plumbing — one pipe to connect to the sink drain, and one new pipe nut. I did have to purchase a basin wrench for $10 to install the faucet. Mr. Cheap caulked, filled the hole where the original medicine cabinet was in the wall, cut molding, set nails the old owners never had set, and hung the cabinets on the walls.

Other new additions. We’re not really updating anything else in the bathroom. I did add shelf liner to our new cabinets, but I used some flat cork and some shelf liner that was lounging idly on our laundry room shelves. Green score: Pretty good. Cheap score: Couldn’t be better.

Waste. We had several items to discard after the re-do.

  • The old étagère. This is a fancy name for the over-toilet cabinet. I Freecycled ours last week.
  • The old pedestal sink. I’ve offered this to my sister. They might use it to complete the roughed-in bathroom in their basement.
  • The old medicine cabinet. It’s not in the greatest shape, but I’m going to donate it to Goodwill, and hopefully someone will find a use for it.
  • The packing materials. These were serious business. Every item came packed very carefully, wrapped in layers of Styrofoam and cardboard. The good news was that the only trash we had was a few plastic lashings that held boxes together. Watch for another post on how we recycled the goodies that our new furnishings came in.


(Sorry that shot is blurry – I must’ve been high on styrofoam fumes! And it *does* include the packaging from a small chest we also purchased.)

Overall? This is hardly a green renovation. I would’ve loved to do so much better on that score. But after hours of work looking for environmentally sensitive products, it seems there aren’t very many out there, unless you are fortunate enough to find something used that you can repurpose. I’m disappointed in myself that I forgot to buy the low-VOC paint. Other than that … better luck next time.

Financially, I think we came out ahead. Our total spend was about $815 for a new sink, vanity, faucet, bathroom paint job and two medicine cabinets — all installed.

It’s too late for me, but if you have any green (or cheap!) renovation tips, please share them here.

* Edited to add hyperlinks.

Big beets, baby beans – Garden growth

Things are growing beautifully in our garden, despite a heat wave that has us thisclose to breaking the record. (Denver’s record is 15 days of highs over 90 degrees. Barring unforeseen cooling, we’ll tie the record on Wednesday, break it on Thursday and blow it out of the water sometime over the next few weeks.) Even though I am a competitive person, this information is little consolation when it’s been too hot to stand on my lawn barefoot without my feet feeling like they are burning. But this big beet doesn’t care.

We’ve also got a lot of babies sprouting green wings in the garden.

The bush green beans have turned from little white flowers into stringy, fuzzy baby beans. Mr. Cheap has taken a lesson from their flourishing: “Next year, a bigger bean patch!”

Our first butternut squash is getting bigger — almost as big as its blossom this morning. That flower was in full bloom yesterday. The plant’s blossoms are so big and bright that when I peeked inside early today, each bloom held a bee that appeared to be dozing.

The cucumbers are growing at a staggered pace. We have cukes in three places. Next to the erstwhile pea trellis we have stair-step cucumbers — the one farthest west is about 8″ tall and growing flowers. The one fartheast east (shaded by dill and tomatoes) is about 4″ tall and still working. The volunteer next to last year’s cuke patch (growing amid stones) is lanky and not producing. Then we have one wonder next to the compost bin. It is half buried by the Juliet tomato and the weeds, but its leaves are dinner-plate-sized and it is sprouting little cukes like this one (about 1.5″ long):

Our first BIG tomato is turning red (we’ve already harvested dozens of cherry tomatoes and two Juliet paste tomatoes, with more ripening as I type). This must be a function of the hot hot heat, because I don’t remember every harvesting so many tomatoes so early:

And our potato is turning … done? Dead? I cautioned you that the potatoes may be making me eat my words:

Please wish my potato vitality, and wish us fortitude to survive the dog-tired, hot-dog dog days of summer. Happy gardening to you.

Food Deals, Trends – Friday Wrap-Up

This Friday wrap-up is all about giving money on food and groceries. Yum.

Economic stimulus deals

You have until the end of the month to take advantage of the economic stimulus bargains offered by Kroger stores. Through July 31, all Kroger affiliates are offering a 10% bonus deal on grocery gift cards if you use your economic stimulus payment to purchase them. That means if you buy a $300 gift card you’ll receive a card valued at $330. If you buy a card valued at $1200, you’ll get a card with a bonus of 120 extra dollars. Think about it — that’s like earning 10% interest on your money that you would be spending on groceries. If you still have your economic stimulus payment hanging around, or if you can afford it, it’s well worth buying ahead on your grocery bill.

At least at Kroger stores, you can simply make a payment in the amount of the economic stimulus increments. Some other stores are offering deals as well, but they say you must present your actual economic stimulus check. For a rundown on all the deals being offered, check out this blog.

What’s fresh?

During the summer, it’s usually easy enough to see what fruits and vegetables are in season. They’re the ones your grocery store is advertising on great sales, and especially the ones that are advertised as coming from local farms. In the Northern Hemisphere, at this time of year, stores and farmers markets are bursting with fresh local produce. For those who like to plan ahead, Wise Bread has put together a list of what fresh fruits and vegetables are in season throughout the year. It still doesn’t mean these foods will be local to your area, but you can save a few bucks and get something fresh.


Now this article beats all. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported on the latest angles of the locavore trend — such as having a guy come grow a garden for you in your back yard.

For a fee, Mr. Paque, who lives in San Francisco, will build an organic garden in your backyard, weed it weekly and even harvest the bounty, gently placing a box of vegetables on the back porch when he leaves.

But perhaps a new industry will spring up …

Cutting junk mail

As far in the past as last Christmas, I had a subscription to GreenDimes on my wish list. GreenDimes is a company that lets you sign up, either for free or for a fee, depending on the services you want to receive, to eliminate your junk mail.

With GreenDimes, you start out by choosing the service level you’re interested in. The free service says it will handle some of your basic junk mail, if you’re willing to do the legwork yourself. I was interested in the premium service, which costs a one-time fee of $20. For that $20, the company does several things:

  • Allows you to input as many names as you want. This was really important to me, because we are still receiving mail for former residents of our house — not only the woman who lived here before we moved in three years ago, but whole bunch of other people whose identity is a total mystery to us.
  • Helps you help yourself. After I signed up, GreenDimes sent me a stack of postcards to send to the companies that require my signature. The postcards were addressed, had the appropriate text on them and even were stamped.
  • Goes automatic. The GreenDimes system automatically signs you up to be eliminated from some of the big mailing lists, such as the Direct Mail Association and Reader’s Digest related organizations.
  • Includes everybody. Another advantage of GreenDimes is that not only can you eliminate catalogs and direct mail, but you also can eliminate mail from companies. This would have been an especially fantastic feature to have activated a few months ago, before Office Depot sent me its giant 5-pound catalog that I received yesterday — and will never open.

It’s still too early to tell just how much junk mail the service will eliminate from my life. I can tell you, though, that last week when I input a bunch of junk mail I’ve received into the system, the mail that I requested GreenDimes to eighty-six included matter from about 12 organizations, and the total weighed one and a half pounds.

Another choice.

If your major junk mail problem is catalogs, there is another option. Around the blogosphere, I’ve seen several mentions of Catalog Choice as a good way to cut down on junk mail. It’s all free and available here. I haven’t heard too much about the outcomes, but my mom mentioned that she’s used the service and she likes it.

Have you tried either of these companies? Do you have other solutions for eliminating junk mail? If so, please share your experience below.

How vacation busted my green chops

At the beginning of this month, my family went on vacation. Took off across the country to Virginia to visit some relatives we haven’t seen in several years. Unfortunately, our vacation turned out to be one of the least green things we’ve done in quite some time.

The travel carbon

First and foremost, of course, were the carbon emissions generated by our three airline tickets. From a financial standpoint, we actually consider driving to Virginia — a distance of approximately 1400 miles. According to the calculator at TerraPass, that journey would have produced carbon emissions of approximately 4000 pounds.

In contrast, our round-trip air travel generated carbon emissions of approximately 9000 pounds.

The deciding factor? Driving would have required an additional six days added to our vacation time. Beyond the grueling prospect of listening to Little Cheap complain for 46 hours round-trip, we face the perpetual issue of obtaining enough time off for that kind of travel. Still, all things considered, I believe I would prefer to drive if we had the opportunity to stop and visit family along the way.

Travel food

Another issue in traveling is that it’s hard to locate organic food. Our conventional food consumption goes up from 30 to 40 percent normally to 90 percent of our diet. I don’t see this as an extreme problem — after all, it’s not that big a deal to change our diet for a short period of time — but it’s a little something that makes me cringe.

Simply being at an airport, however, makes it more likely that we’ll consume disposable food. For one thing, when you aren’t allowed to carry your own liquids, it’s far more tempting to purchase a bottle of water. Before our trip I had intended to bring empty bottles that we could fill up at fountains. But when it came down to it, time became crunched and I forgot.

And of course being on vacation, we did a lot of eating out. I can’t vouch for the eco-footprint of our restaurant dining on vacation. We were fortunate at any rate that most of the food we ate was delicious, so I can’t object to that.


The most troubling part of our vacation travel actually occurred while we were staying with our relatives. At this particular household they seem to eat 75% of their meals on disposable plates. When the children are asked to set the table, they automatically grab paper plates and bowls. Of course, the only napkins available were paper napkins. The only cleaning materials available were paper towels. When I tried to do as I do at home and use the same water glass repeatedly, I would soon find it in the sink. When our hosts wanted a drink of water, they reached for a plastic water bottle from Wal-Mart, rather than drinking tap water, which was perfectly all right.

I didn’t want to throw a wrench in the works or criticize them personally, and yet it made me very uncomfortable to create so much garbage while eating in their home. In fact, as several days went by, I felt more upset that their household’s actions are so counterproductive to all the work I’m doing in my own lifestyle.

Interestingly enough, this household has two issues that make disposables particularly tricky:

  • Their budgets are tight, and disposables cost money. In fact, one day I was sent to Wal-Mart to purchase more paper plates for a party and the paper plates, bowls and cups that were ordered cost $9. Yikes.
  • They live in a rural area where they must drive all garbage to a municipal dump. In that situation I would be particularly motivated to reduce my garbage even more.

By the end of our visit, I still hadn’t come up with a solution. Because I prefer to avoid confrontation and I don’t want hurt these people’s feelings, my first impulse (that I acted on on this trip) was to just go with the flow. For any future visits, I wasn’t sure what I should do. Perhaps I should just be very frank about my personal beliefs and insist that we use the plates in the cupboard — an action I could back up with an offer to wash all the dishes myself. Again, my impulse is to anticipate that they would think I was being a martyr or trying to dramatically make a point, rather than simply accepting the offer. And of course, I could go super-dramatic and avoid staying at their home.

What would you do, green readers?

One small way to cut your footprint

I picked this tidbit last week, after our travels were done — you can use your BlackBerry to present a scannable boarding pass for TSA, at least if you’re flying Continental. A great paperless solution — and a good thing to know if you don’t have access to a printer just before your flight.

* edited to fix a typo.

Hand coffee grinder

At our local antique shop (which is more like a thrift store in terms of quality and price), we found this cutie on Saturday.

The shop also had a couple of more elegant looking oak versions of the hand-held coffee mill, but we’ve got some Germanic background in our household, so we are suckers for the painted wood.

We brought it home and threw some beans in, and Little Cheap decided it’s “the most fun ever in my life, practically” to grind the beans.

With a few minutes of lackadaisical grinding, we came up with enough grounds in the drawer to make our pot of coffee. The grind is finer than I thought it would be.

As for the results? This site, which makes very similar grinders, claims that you can use less coffee per pot with a hand mill. Mr. Cheap (our resident coffee snob extraordinaire) used the same amount of coffee as usual, and his assessment was that it didn’t taste as strong, but had an excellent flavor.

We didn’t take coffee beans along to the antique store, but just took a look and gave the handle a twirl, and it seemed like it would work. Luckily, we were right. If not, it would have gone on eBay as a collectible.

All in all, not too shabby for $11, and so much cuter than my 15-year-old Krups grinder.