February 22, 2012

Save money AND save the world

In all our talk about saving money in tight times, we've neglected to talk about how to save money on utilities. Consumer Reports offers an article titled You can save $1,500 with these 4 strategies (it is a pdf file, sorry)  that does provide some basics. But their money-saving strategies are still kind of pricey in my book. An energy audit, while worthwhile, can still set you back from $300-$800. Incense sticks, however, are very cheap and can help you find the worst drafts.

Weather stripping really makes a difference. We added weather stripping to our front door, and the breeze that had been in the front hallway disappeared.

Never underestimate the power of caulk. If you house was built in the 70s or 80s (or earlier), it probably needs the old caulk scraped away and new caulk applied. This is not that hard to do, but if  you've never done it before, start with a window that does not face the street. And use clear caulk.

You can, of course, spend a huge amount of money on new windows, but in a lot of cases, insulated curtains work  pretty well for a fraction of the cost. Now, I have never seen truly attractive insulated curtains, but I have seen inoffensive ones

Finally, turn down your thermostat and slip on a sweater. Or, turn it down when you go to bed and throw on an extra blanket.

March 31, 2011

Sewing Revisted, Or, Not Your Mother's Home Ec Class

For many of us, sewing brings up memories of poorly crafted aprons made in high school to the insane specifications of a slightly-evil, slightly-crazy home ec teacher.

But, in today's economic climate (if you have expensive tastes), sewing can be the way to go. I'll grant, you can probably shop end-of-season sales or discount stores and dress cheaply enough that sewing does not make economic sense. But if you like a little flair in your wardrobe, or if your taste runs more to Anthropologie than to Target, being able to sew can be a godsend.

There are a lot of ways to begin sewing. Most local sewing machine dealers offer sewing classes for any level from beginning to advanced. (Oh, and if you are shopping for a sewing machine, go to a dealer. They often have used machines they can sell you that will get you started for a reasonable amount of money. New machines that cost under $100 are about the quality of the toy sewing machines that were sold when I was a kid in the 70s.) Dealers will help you learn to use your machine and will repair your machine, should the need arise.

If, though, you already have a sewing machine, and are a veteran of the poorly-made-apron-in-high-school experience, you can just start sewing. (Oil your machine first, though!) One place for traditional sewing instructions, ideas, and patterns is Sewing.org. The instructions they provide are clear, thorough, and very do-able. Oh, and free.

If you are more of a just-do-it kind of person, though, check out T-Shirt-Surgery. This is a Live Journal Community of people who "reconstruct" clothes, often t-shirts or thrift store finds. What they lack in knowledge, they make up for in imagination. They proudly show off their creations, and some of them look really, really good. I would wear them, and my clothing is pretty conservative.

If you need a reference book that you can hold, though, my favorite is The Sewing Bible: A Modern Manual of Practical and Decorative Sewing Techniques. I bought it as soon as it came out. It is wonderfully illustrated and, best of all, the instructions are clear and do not assume that you have tons of knowledge already.

February 22, 2011

Dreams and Compromises

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Money is always tight around my house. My husband and I are both teachers, and we have to watch our money.

Our children, however, are less enthusiastic about our budgeting efforts. Take, for example, our eight year old, Olivia. She is an outdoorsy kind of girl who had rather run a 5K than read a book. (Not even kidding here-- I think she gets it from my husband.) Reading is something that she has not been as interested in. I, on the other hand, think reading is about the most important thing ever. My older daughter has always read. She read Junie B. Jones in Kindergarten, American Girls in first grade and Harry Potter in second. So I bought Olivia some American Girls books. She was sort of interested. She was much more interested in the catalogs full of dolls, though.

So, for Christmas, I bought her a real American Girl doll. I liked the way Samantha looked with her pretty dark hair, and I thought the storyline looked pretty good, so I started searching Ebay for a Samantha. If you spend a lot of time on Ebay looking at American Girl dolls, you find some things out. Some dolls are retired. That means that the company no longer produces them. Those can be really expensive. Guess what? Samantha was retired. Strike one.

Condition is important, though, in these dolls. Collectors favor dolls with strings at the back of their necks, instead of clips. This shows that a doll was manufactured before a certain date, and was manufactured in Germany rather than Asia. Dolls that can stand on their own are favored as well, because if they cannot stand, then they are in need of some repair inside the body (known as "re-stringing"). Of course, surface blemishes are taken into account. Marks, scratches, etc can hurt the value of a doll.

Accessories also make a difference in the value of a doll. An American Girl doll in her "meet" outfit, if it is complete, fetches a significantly higher price than a naked one, or one in a generic dress. (Genuine American Girl dresses are usually listed separately, as they have their own collectors.) Original boxes, of course, can send a price through the roof.

Bidding on Ebay takes patience. A lot of patience. When I started bidding, I either didn't go high enough, or I watched in amazement as prices skyrocketed. Then I saw something odd. Naked dolls didn't fare too poorly at auction, and complete ones were pricey. But the dolls that had part of their kit seemed to sell for less. I watched some more and bid on a Samantha that had her "meet" dress, but the wrong shoes and no tights. Her hair was a mess, but she had a hardback book. So I went looking elsewhere on Ebay and found shoes and tights. All in all, I spent less than $70, plus some time. While this is not a tremendous savings off the the $110 retail cost, it is a huge savings off of the cost of a "mint" condition Samantha. I probably also would have saved money if I had been shopping in the summer instead of October, which is coming up on Christmas. I also would have saved money if I had been content with a doll that is still being produced. In addition, if I were willing to restring the doll (and good instructions are out there) the cost would be even lower.

I guess the moral to this story is this: How much is a box worth? How much does and eight year old care about "mint" condition? Think about what you actually care about and make those aspects happen.