Sunday, March 15, 2009

Don't Leave Home Without It

While a Bloomingdale's, Tiffany's or Sak's Fifth Ave. charge card might have had its cachet in bygone eras, now we're all more conscious of our spending and, at least among a certain subset of folks, you get props not for how much you spend on things, but for how much you save.

That's why I'm pleased as punch that I finally signed up for and got my Goodwill card. I had hesitated because of my feeling that Goodwill prices are wack (in my neck of the woods, the stuff just seems too expensive), but knowing that I'm saving 5 percent on purchases over $15 makes the prices a tiny bit better. And I get a one-time 25 percent credit to use during my birthday month. Sweet! Leather jacket here I come.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bargains by the Pound

Used clothes used to freak me out. Oh sure, I could buy "vintage" pieces and wear them, but I never bought thrift store clothes -- they gave me the heebie jeebies. Don't know why, probably it was just my strictly middle class upbringing.

But lately I've become a tightwad's tightwad, and have fallen in love with The Bins. For those not in the Portland loop, the Bins are where Goodwill items go to die. In other words, all the stuff that doesn't sell at Goodwill stores around the Portland area, goes to this facility just south of Portland. There, it's put into these big rolling bins in a room roughly the size of a football field.

The stuff is roughly categorized -- books on the back wall, clothing on the west side of the building -- but a casual glance into any bin will reveal a whole world of cast off goods. You might see a naked Barbie doll, some lidless Tupperware, a box of holiday ornaments, a puzzle, some jagged pieces of broken glassware (tip: wear gloves while rummaging through the bins), a cigarette lighter, a few stuffed animals... Most of the stuff is pure junk, and looking at it all makes my head spin. I feel our society floating away on a toxic river of cheap consumer goods. You just know that most of this stuff is going to end up in the landfill.

But the stuff that isn't junk ... Well that's what keeps me coming back. Some finds have included an almost brand-new pink raincoat for my daughter just when the rainy season was about to begin; lots of pairs of jeans in my size (including the pair pictured, which actually had a $5 bill in the pocket, meaning I actually MADE MONEY on the deal); the exact Playmobil set my daughter had asked for the week before; some leaded crystal wine glasses. At the bins, you pay $1.39 a pound for almost everything, except books, which are a buck for hardcovers and 50 cents for paperbacks.

A lot of people go to the bins strictly to find things for resale. There are those that go though all the clothing bins for stuff to sell at Buffalo Exchange or other clothing stores. There are people who grab all the books they can, then use their cell phone to check the ISBNs on Amazon.

The bins are addictive. You just get ready to leave, thinking there's no way I'm going to find anyting valuable today, and suddenly they're wheeling out a new bin and everyone is lining up to get first crack at the stuff inside. It's a crapshoot, with the spoils going to the patient, the aggressive, and the cheap.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I wish I were smarter.

I'm trying to climb ever-so tentatively up the craggy, tenuous bloggy path, and I'm finding it to be a harrowing journey. I don't want to sound like the computer version of Into the Wild, but suffice it to say that starting a blog is more difficult for me than opening up a notebook, grabbing a pen and scrawling out my thoughts.

The night is coming to a close, and I'll get more skilled tomorrow. The Sumo men represent the left and right sides of my brain, battling each other.

I'll get down to business tomorrow. 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Solving the Grocery Dilemma

The decision about where to shop for groceries is bound to affect your weekly grocery bill. And yet, what are you willing to give up to shop at the supermarket that has the cheapest prices?

Will you drive more than five miles?

Will you bag your own groceries?

Will you give up access to organic fruits and vegetables?

Will you trade in a clean, well-lighted upscale place to shop for one that caters to a more down-market audience?

Money is tight in my house, and, for me, the answer to all of the above is yes.

I used to shop at Whole Foods or my local supermarket. But now I shop at the Pacific Northwest-based chain of low-cost supermarkets called WinCo. In my area, WinCo consistently has the best prices on staples. Butter is always $2.50 a pound. Milk is less than $2 for a half gallon. Broccoli crowns are invariably between 99 cents and $1.25 a pound. The whole wheat bread I buy is usually on sale for $2 a loaf. Moreover, WinCo is employee-owned and favors regional products, both a political bonus for me.

Yes, there are very few organic options at WinCo, so I try to stay away from fruits and veggies with the highest pesticide load.

Instead of soft lighting, a fancy deli with acres of prepared foods, and displays of wine and cheese, WinCo has an extensive bulk bin section (latest find: Guittard cocoa for less than the cost of Hershey's) and a warehouse look and feel. But that suits the budget shopper, too. With less to tempt you, it's easier to stick to your list...and your budget.

I don't feel as pampered shopping at WinCo. Sometimes shopping there I feel downright poor. But does it make any sense to pay 30 percent more for groceries just so I can feel swanky in the supermarket?