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November 1, 2011 / teleste

Still being cheap

Two months to the day that I last wrote here. I’m still being cheap, but I haven’t been very motivated to write about it lately. In September, I had an extended viral illness that limited my ability to go couponing and that also motivated me to start writing fiction again as a way to entertain myself. As I often am with new enterprises, I’ve become a bit obsessed with that, which has left less time for blogging. Oh, and the new season of Glee began. That’s also very time-consuming.

Also, I was a little distracted by the whole process of kicking out the new roommate, who spent most of her time at home drinking 40s. If you can drink 40s all day and night and not trip over my cats or growl at me in the morning, more power to you; but if I have to put up with any of your 40s-induced crap, you are out of here. So about a week-and-a-half into her being here, I told her I wanted her to leave at the end of the month. It was actually pretty civil, but I still thought it a very nice gift when she finally moved out on my birthday.

But I am still being cheap and thrifty. (Technically, I’d be thriftier to have a roommate, but I’m ready for a bit of a break right now, and more work has been coming in, so I can afford the luxury for the timebeing.) Dekalb and I picked 2-3 bushels of apples from a tree in my neighborhood and I processed them in September and October, ending up with about 4 gallons of dried apples and 18 quarts of applesauce. Eighteen quarts is not enough to last me a year, but I still have a lot leftover from last year, so I decided I could stop at 18 this time.

Today Dekalb and I went to CVS, where – using coupons and ExtraBucks – I got free hand lotion, free iced coffee, free instant coffee, and free make-up. I spent $7 in ExtraBucks, $2 and change on a CVS giftcard (which I got instead of ExtraBucks on a purchase this summer), and got back a $10 AmEx giftcard. So, technically, I made a little money.

I was glad for the make-up because I could not locate my one eyeliner pencil before my last job interview, and the only eyeshadow I could find in my collection was sparkly gold. In other words, not really interview make-up. Of course, I don’t think women should have to wear make-up to get a job, but for some reason wearing it is equated with professionalism and respect; and once I get my foot in the door, I can stop. Muahahaha! On the other hand, make-up it does come in handy when one has to show up to a job interview with an indeterminate but misery-inducing virus, which I did in September. I didn’t get the job, but boy did I look healthy.

Oh, and now that I have no roommate, Downstairs Cat has taken over the second bedroom. She convinced me to move two cat trees in there for her (one that a neighbor put out by the dumpster, and one that I am babysitting for some friends who have a geriatric cat who no longer climbs – I had to promise to give it back if they get a more lithesome cat one of these days). She spends a lot of her day there now, which kind of makes her more of an upstairs cat than Upstairs Cat.

Oh, and on the decluttering front – I haven’t been doing much of that lately, and I think it must be because I had been so successful with decluttering from January through July. I have made a trip or two to St. Vinny’s that I didn’t report here, but they’ve been fewer – as have been my postings to Craigslist and Freecycle. I do have a piece or two of furniture that I should probably post to Craigslist, but they’re not taking up much room so I keep forgetting. Once winter really sets in, though, I’m sure they will feel oppressive and I will be itching to get rid of them. The house always feels more cluttered in winter.

August 31, 2011 / teleste

My disappearance

I have been so busy being thrifty the past few weeks that I haven’t had time to blog about it. All my free time, after freelance work and job applications, has been taken up with saving tons of money and sleeping. No energy left to blog.

As mentioned in a previous entry, mid-month was the major curb-shopping event in my town. It’s also known as “hippie Christmas” because the curb and dumpsters offer so many gifts, and I’m okay with that name even though I’m not a hippie. Renters who hate the idea of throwing away perfectly good stuff but don’t have time to get to St. Vinny’s or the food pantry to donate it often leave boxes of stuff out on the curb with signs that say “FREE.” I’m guessing this sign was a joke, though:


Dekalb and I have no problems digging through the trash for stuff, but it’s always nice when people walk out of their apartments with bags of unopened food and say, “Hey, I don’t mean to offend you, but do you want this?” We always say, “YES!” We end up bringing a lot of it to the food pantry, so it’s a win-win-win: we get free food AND we get to help out a stressed renter who wants to do the right thing AND the food pantry gets stocked.

Our best score was when someone walked out with the contents of their entire freezer. Apparently this person believed in stocking up, because we got about 20 pounds of chicken (mostly organic), 2 pounds of venison, 8 pounds of catfish out of the deal, several pounds of frozen fruits and vegetables, and untold numbers of kosher hot dogs.

As someone who used to teach people about food safety, I realize that there’s the possibility that the meat wasn’t stored properly and had been allowed to thaw before freezing. But it looks fresh and passes the smell test when thawed, and I haven’t got sick from eating it, so I assume that this did not happen.


The whole adventure prompted me to reorganize my pantry. I kind of had to in order to fit all the new non-perishables into it.

The plastic bags on the door kind of detract from the look, but they are there because they are drying. I put cup hooks on the inside of the pantry door so I can dry the plastic bags out of the way, where they don’t clutter the kitchen counter and downstairs cat won’t eat them.

The string of lights goes around the entire pantry. I removed it from a homemade foosball table that I found next to a dumpster and deconstructed. I deconstructed it for the lumber, which I’ll be using to build a wall in my basement, but I’m glad I got the lights, too. Dekalb was nice and spliced an on-off switch from an old lamp I had onto the light string’s cord.

During hippie Christmas, my old roommate moved out (she did NOT dump all her possessions into the trash). Since my new roommate isn’t moving in until tomorrow, that gave me almost two weeks to turn the house upside down with long-awaited home improvement projects. I installed new (used) vanity lights in both bathrooms and repainted the upstairs bathroom, which had previously been a shade of blue that was just a little too purple for the green floors. (You can see a before picture here, but I haven’t taken any after pictures yet because I’m waiting for the paint to sure longer before I reattach all the towel hooks etc.)

Here’s what the new (used) lights look like:

I got these at the Habitat Restore, but didn't like the faux copper patina, so spray-painted them with aluminum spray paint.

And since then I have been prepping and repainting the living room, which was previously bordello red:

My friends don't really look like this. They just wanted me to distort their faces so the whole world doesn't know they associate with me.

It was an awesome color, but too dark for winter. Plus, all my cool red furniture and art just blended right into the wall. I had to repaint because there were patches in the wall and ceiling from a ceiling fan installation earlier this summer, so while I was at it I figured it was time to change the color. Companion was fabulous this weekend and overcame his loathing of DIY to help me repaint the ceiling. I’m not done yet (second coat goes on today), so you’ll just have to wait for the after pictures. But here’s upstairs cat helping me with the project:

Not dead. Just chillin'.

Oh, and all the tarps are from the trash, and the paints for bathroom and living room were either free from the county paint drop-off site and/or trash and/or cheap from the Habitat Restore. The roller covers and many of the paintbrushes were free after rebate from the home improvement store. Other paintbrushes and rollers were hand-me-downs from friends.

August 10, 2011 / teleste

Care package for the kitties

Free stuff cheers downstairs cat as much as it cheers me.

Today has been a sucky day. I woke up with vertigo and it has gotten worse, and the Epley maneuver doesn’t seem to help today. It meant I couldn’t go to the library as planned to work, but I do still have to go to the radio station tonight because I couldn’t find a sub. And I couldn’t work on prepping my living room for painting because that would involve rapid movements that would make me dizzier. Even piecing for a quilt seemed overwhelming.

Well, amidst all this feeling sorry for myself, I checked my mail and found a big box on my front stoop. The return address was from Hartz Mountain Corporation. I had no idea what it might be, but I opened it anyway. Acolytes of the Unibomber have no particular reason to target me.

Turned out it was a box of cat toys and goodies from Hartz, accompanied by a brochure that said “Congratulations on becoming a new pet parent!” (My cats and I prefer the term “lady in waiting” to “pet parent,” but I guess Hartz didn’t know this.)

The box made my day. It included two bags of treats, jingle ball toys, a grooming brush, odor neutralizer (not that my cats ever do anything smelly) and a litter scoop. Now I can throw away the scoop with the broken handle – score!

(On a side note, I’m not exactly a new pet parent/lady in waiting, so I’m guessing I signed up for this when I had downstairs cat spayed. I have a vague recollection of filling out some form online in response to an email from the shelter. Too bad I don’t have a better recollection, or I would tell you where to go to fill out the form right now, because the goodies are grand.)

Downstairs cat approves heartily of the package. She loves free things as much as her lady in waiting. Last week, Dekalb found 30 cans of Friskies wet food when he was cleaning out a condo for work. He gave them all to her. She adores wet food, and thinks I am a very bad lady in waiting because I only dispense half a can’s worth at a time. She wishes she had opposable thumbs so she could open the cans herself and eat all of it in one sitting.

August 10, 2011 / teleste

Why do people throw away … ?

I got home from curb shopping last night and my roommate’s friend asked what the best thing was that I ever found in the trash.

This is a popular question for non-trash-pickers to ask trash-pickers, but it is unanswerable. It’s like asking, “What’s the best thing you ever bought at the grocery store?” or “Which day in the 1990s had the nicest weather?” I have found tens of thousands of things in the trash, rescued thousands of them, and kept hundreds of them. Among my possessions, I don’t make a daily distinction between what I found in the trash, what someone gave me, and what I bought. If you ask me where I got something, I can probably tell you, but I don’t think about it otherwise. And so if you ask me to make an instant judgment about the best thing I ever found in the trash, I can’t. I’d need to inventory my house first and then also remember the things I’ve found but didn’t keep or no longer have – for example, the three $20 bills wadded up in the pocket of a pair of hot pink shorts in 2000.

This week is for curb shopping like the day after Thanksgiving is for actual shopping. Most of the rental contracts let up this weekend, so people are starting to go through their stuff and decide what not to move. For some reason, a lot of them never seem to have heard of food pantries or St. Vinny’s – they just throw everything in the dumpster.

So I came home last night with:

  • A new lamp for my living room to replace the one with the broken shade
  • 8 cans of pineapple
  • 8 cans of green beans
  • 3 cans of chicken broth
  • a can of fruit cocktail
  • A can of Progresso chicken soup
  • Three small boxes of unopened raisin bran
  • a box a granola bars
  • Enough skin lotion to keep my epidermis hydrated into the beginning of winter, if not longer
  • Paperclips galore! (I really needed some, but hadn’t bought any because I knew there would be plenty to choose from this week.)
  • A huge bag of Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 5 pounds of sugar (guess I’ll have to make elderberry wine again this year, as I don’t think it would be all that good for my health to go through that much sugar in baking for myself)
  • Three shopping bags of clothes (which I will wash and try on and then decide what to keep)
  • An antique cabinet door with a very nice geometric wood inlay – I will probably use it to build a Frankenstein cabinet this winter
  • and other stuff

Note that most of the stuff is consumables. I am still averse to clutter. And if I should decide to keep any of the clothes, then stuff that is now in my closet will have to move out. Which is just fine, because a lot of the clothes I found are more flattering than a lot of what I currently have.

What I listed above, by the way, is not all of what I gathered. I was team-shopping with Dekalb, and we went to his house to divvy up the loot before I came home. He was the beneficiary of my big food score last night. In one dumpster, I found two garbage bags full of nothing but unopened baking mixes and pantry foods. Most of it was loaded with sugar, which he eats proudly, so he got struesel mix, sugar cookie mix, brownie mix, spice cake mix, and boxes and boxes of who knows what else. He rejected the muffin, flan, tiramisu and pancake mixes, so those will go to the food pantry. We also found lots of school supplies for the classroom of Companion, who is a teacher. (Yes, Tea Partiers, that’s where the classroom supplies come from thanks to your budget prowess.) And several boxes of clothes and stuff to donate to St. Vinny’s.

Alas, no pictures to accompany this blog entry. But did you really want to stare at a bunch of canned pineapple?


July 31, 2011 / teleste

Another awesome day for free stuff at CVS, and on the curb

My main form of socialization with my friend Dekalb is now couponing. It used to be fixing things around the house, but now that repair and handiness is his full-time job, he no longer seems to think that helping me finish my basement is a fun way to spend an afternoon.

So on Saturday – after two days of riding in a car from Texas – I decided to stretch my legs by biking with Dekalb to CVS. I had a $4 off of $20 in groceries coupon from a CVS magic coupon machine near Dallas and was thinking about combining it with manufacturer’s coupons to stock up on almonds (which were on a two-for-one sale through Saturday), coffee and cheese curds. I also thought I’d see if there were enough Aussie and Herbal Essences products in stock for me to do a money-making gas card deal that I learned about from Frugal Suz. In short, you spend about $30 on hair products, use $24 in coupons and get back a $10 gas card.

I don’t have a car, but Dekalb helped take care of my cats while I was away so I thought I could get the gas card for him as a token of appreciation.

The trip went much better than planned. First, when I went to the magic coupon machine (always my first move on a CVS visit), it printed out not one, but two $5 off of a $25 purchase coupons.

Then, we went to the haircare aisle and found that CVS had tons of stuff in stock – enough for both Dekalb and I to do the deal without us coming close to clearing the shelves. We spent a lot of time sniffing the shampoos and styling products as if we were buying them for ourselves. (In truth, almost all are going to friends and being donated.) We each selected 6 shampoos and 6 styling products priced at 2/$4.97.

I also picked up two cans of Blue Diamond almonds (they were on a 2-for-1 sale) for $4.19 and a small box of single-serving decaf instant coffee packs for $1. I had $1 in coupons for the nuts and $0.75 for the coffee. I decided not to rack up $20 in groceries, since I had the $5 off of $25 any purchase to use.

Then, the moment of truth: I brought everything to the register.

When all was said and done, I used $26.75 in manufacturers’ coupons, a $5 CVS coupon, and $5.68 in Extra Bucks to get everything for $0.00 in cash. I got the $10 gas card for Dekalb and a $1 Extra Buck for using my own bag over the past four visits.

Like I said, an awesome day for free stuff at CVS.


What the Ugly Dolls look like if you levitate upside down outside my back door.

After leaving Dekalb at his house, I happened upon a pile of garage-sale leftovers at the curb. My curb-shopping policy is to take first what I can definitely use myself, take second what I think a friend would like, and take third what catches my fancy. The fancy-catchers might be clothes that I like but am not sure will fit, or books that look interesting, or just things that are weird/cool. They usually end up being donated to St. Vinny’s or sold to a bookstore or on consignment.

I was on my bike so I couldn’t take everything that was cool, but I got three Ugly dolls, two 12-foot-laundry-lines worth of clothing, an unused leather photo album, a rectangular basket (always looking for these to make my stuff on shelves look neater), some children’s books in German, a CD of German comedic music, and an organic chemistry modeling set. I put most of the finds in a large duffel bag I also found on the curb and stuffed everything else in my bike baskets (along with the CVS treasures and a small compost container I had emptied at Dekalb’s) and on the top of the rear rack, then headed home.

I love my Schwinn Suburban.

I hadn’t even gone a block before finding a new home for the chemistry modeling set. My friend A., who happened to be in the neighborhood, waved hello from the curb. I pulled over to visit with her and offered her the set. She’s in nursing school and will be taking organic chemistry next semester.

So now it’s hers. Serendipity!

July 31, 2011 / teleste

The secret to spending absolutely no cash when buying stuff at CVS

Polo with the hybrid basket-cart we used in a Texas CVS. At first, you carry it around like a basket. But when it gets too heavy, you can put it on the floor and wheel it around like a cart. Wicked!

I got back last night from 10 days in Texas with Companion, which included four trips to CVS.  I guess that sounds like a lot of CVS trips, but they are always within a stone’s throw down there (including one down the street from Companions’ parents’ house). Nonethless, companion says he will be happy not to go to CVS again for a while, even though he only went on two of my four CVS jaunts. He likes it when I get free pens for his classroom, but he does not like to deal with coupons, figuring out and following rules (for coupons or other things), or buying things before he needs them.

Our first visit to CVS was  with my friend Polo, whom I hadn’t seen in three years, and she thought it was all very entertaining, especially since I was able to get her contact lens solution and Breathe Right strips for nothing. I was also able to get beef jerky for companion and feminine hygiene products for me, and my total was $0.00, including tax. It was awesome.

The reason I didn’t have to pay tax out of pocket is that CVS allows you to use manufacturer’s coupons toward tax. You can’t use CVS coupons  or Extra Bucks (their instant rebate/store credit system, also known as EBs) toward tax, though. So the way to get your bill down to $0.00 is to figure out the amount of money you have in manufacturer’s coupons before you go to the register.

Say you have $8.25 in manufacturers’ coupons, a $5 off of $25 purchase coupon from the CVS coupon machine, and $19 in Extra Bucks of various denominations. and you get to the register and your total with tax rings up as $25.07 before tax and $26.62 after tax. You need to do some quick math in your head by subtracting the value of the manufacturers’ coupons from the post-tax total. That gets you $18.37. So you need to pay that $18.37 in CVS coupons and Extra Bucks. In this case, I would use the $5 off of $25 coupon first, then hand over Extra Bucks that total as close to $13.37 as I can get – for example, an $8, $2 and $3 EB for $13, or a $2.50, $6 and $5 for $13.50. At the end, I would give the cashier my manufacturers’ coupons and pay nothing (if I gave him/her $13.50 in EB) or $0.13 (if I have him/her $13 in EB).

This doesn’t always work perfectly, since sometimes your taxes get readjusted after you hand over CVS coupons. But since I started doing this four CVS trips ago, it has always resulted in me paying less cash than the total sales tax owed on the bill. (And don’t worry; the state and county still get their money – it just gets paid by the manufacturers, not by me.)

July 29, 2011 / teleste

Good deal on women’s shaving cream at CVS this week

Day 110 - ShavingI got a good deal on shaving cream at CVS this week. Skintastic is on sale for $2.19 and part of a deal where you get $10 in CVS store credit if you spend $20 on select items. I bought 9 cans (my CVS had a huge, well-stocked display midweek, so I didn’t clear any shelves*) and used a combination of $1.50 shave cream coupons from the internet, $1 shave cream Qs from last Sunday’s coupon circular, $.75 shave gel Qs from the internet (which I found on the WildForWags coupon database) and $.55 shave gel from the circular and broke even. You could work it to be a moneymaker – spend less than $10 out of pocket and still get $10 store credit back – if you had the right number of higher-value coupons and your store has that much cream in stock. But I warn you that some stores won’t accept the $1.50 for the shave cream – apparently it has to do with how their computer system codes the product.

My legs are pits aren’t hairy enough to justify owning 9 cans, so I’ll be keeping just one or two for myself and donating the rest.


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