Posts Tagged ‘frugal’

It’s Just a Matter of Scale

It’s a funny feeling to hear someone say she can’t possibly live on $2,000 a month – which used to be my take-home pay when I was working. I had to remind myself that she has a large house to maintain, and two kids and a dog to support, and had just $200 left for the last week of January, which she was counting out in twenties. She was debating whether to spend several of those twenties on another doctor’s visit for a sore that wasn’t healing. At this point she was more than willing to try the salt-water compresses I suggested.

It’s also a funny feeling to hear someone say, at around the same time last month, that she might lose her rent-controlled apartment after 20 years if she can’t scrape up $650 for rent in a week’s time – forget that her computer doesn’t work and so she can’t easily post anything on Craigslist for quick sale. I felt badly that I couldn’t send cash, but I did have a $20 phone card I bought at a 2-for-1 sale, so I mailed one to her.

Then I realized we’re all in the same boat, really. I was counting out the rest of my month’s expense money in dollars, while my “$2,000” friend was counting hers in twenties. and my friend on the edge was counting hers in quarters, nickels, pennies.

Despite the difference in scale, we’re all counting, we’re all downsizing, we’re all having to make terrible trade-offs, we’re all in the same sinking boat.


A Bag of Books for $2

The local library held its annual book sale, and today their normally low prices (50 cents for hardbacks; 25 cents for paperbacks) dropped to $2 for a full grocery bag of books. The pickings today weren’t quite as good as a couple of years ago, when I found some classics by Norman Mailer, John Updike, and Susan Sontag, but I certainly can’t complain. When the price is this low, you can put everything but the kitchen sink in the bag – and I did, from textbooks to business books to Carlos Castenada.

Freecycle is a moderated online community where people offer unused goods, and ask for goods needed, for free. Similar to Craigslist in its grass-roots origins and community spirit, it screens new members by local address – you can join the San Francisco Freecycle, for example, only if you live in San Francisco. The screening helps keep the spammers and scammers away. I’ve used it a few times – to get moving boxes, and to give away a sofa and some clay pots – and it works pretty well.

In fact, it’s kind of like an online version of Give Your Neighbor a Ride.

Each local Freecycle community is hosted on Yahoo Groups, but Freecycle has its own login system. So it’s best to start with the central site, find your local site, and log in from there. (You might still have to log in with Yahoo separately. It’s very confusing.)

I have a warning, though: Be very careful before giving or receiving mattresses, beds, sofas, other upholstered furniture, bedroom furniture – or moving boxes – because they could harbor bedbugs without the giver even knowing it. Since this pest is expert at hiding and feeds on people and not filth, even the ritziest hotels in New York have gotten them. For more info, see New York vs. Bedbugs.

Thrifty Advice for Parents (and Nonparents)

Sather Gate at UC Berkeley

Sather Gate at UC Berkeley. Photo by Huney Kong.

The categorized advice exchanged on the Berkeley Parents Network, a volunteer-run community forum, is available to anyone with Web access, and many tips apply to anyone, anywhere, not just parents in Berkeley.

Having worked on staff at UC Berkeley for six years, I recognize the address as one hosted by UC Berkeley. My guess is that it was started, probably long ago, by graduate students who were also parents, or became parents during their studies.

There are a few things to know about grad students at any university, even the top ones like UC Berkeley:

  • Grad students are required to work hard, either in teaching or research, as well as study hard.
  • Grad students are woefully underpaid. Seriously, their stipends have hovered around minimum wage. And their studies can last up to seven years. So they’re poor for quite a long time.
  • Grad students at UC Berkeley almost always have to relocate, and often bring nothing with them to save on moving costs.
  • Grad students with families usually can’t rely on a spouse’s income to make up for their low pay, because the spouse (1) had to move too, and (2) is often just starting out in a career and/or is waiting for his/her turn for grad school.

So, even though Berkeley Parents Network has evolved to include all parents within commuting distance of Berkeley, there is a definite thrifty tone to the requests and offers for advice. And all of them are categorized and searchable on the Web site.

I’m not a parent, but I have two girl cousins, 9 and 16, that I take on day trips once in a while. I’ve made use of Berkeley Parents Network for inexpensive places to take kids for fun, and for advice on handling occasionally sullen teens. But I’ve also checked it for how to handle an unusual pest problem – which has nothing to do with kids, or with Berkeley.

But if you do live within commuting distance of Berkeley, you can join for free and get email newsletters as well as the ability to post forum messages of your own. Plus, the localized resources, such as dentists and preschools, will work for you.

Whether you’re a parent or not, live near Berkeley or not, Berkeley Parents Network is an extensive, reliable resource.