Thriftstyle Gifting: Making people smile on a budget!

First, I take you to this helpful reminder, brought to us by a thrifty street artist:

New life motto.

Now then…

My mom turned 50 yesterday. And I didn’t break the bank getting her a gift she absolutely loved. She’s pretty big into gardening, decorating the house, and bamboo plants. So I thought: why not get her a teacup garden! This an idea I picked up online. I went to the thrift store (Village Discount Outlet on Roscoe near Damen – my favorite!) and picked up 4 teacups and a pretty teapot.

All of this was just $6.95! I think I happened to stop in on a day when certain items were half price – but even still, $12 for all of this wouldn’t have been bad.

I then went to CVS and picked up some tissue paper, a bag, a card (I got her a “With Sympathy” card – we have a crazy sense of humor in my family) and a daisy grow-kit to get her garden started.

All of this was $7.93! (with a helpful 25% off coupon CVS emailed me earlier in the week – ALWAYS sign up for email lists for the places you shop most. Unless you seriously loathe an inbox flooded with emails, you’ll get some really awesome discounts.)

So right now we’re up to $14.88 total, including the wrapping (which to me is an expense I forget about until the very end).

When we were at Navy Pier Saturday night celebrating her birthday, I also bought her some bamboo to add to the garden. $10.98 for 5 pieces of bamboo.

Oh…and I DID go to CVS late night when I decided I wanted to make a CD for her (all Fiona Apple – the woman is going through menopause and needs some angry chick music). My parents are old school and aren’t savvy enough to use something like Spotify or other music-sharing sites. $5.46 for a 5-pack of CDs with jewel cases (or $1.09 roughly for the one CD I used for her – I’ll likely use the others to make more CDs for my parents later on).

So that brings the grand total spent on my mom’s 50th birthday gift to: $26.95 – INCLUDING wrapping! I was unbelievably impressed.

And my mom absolutely loved the idea. Its something unique. It gives her something to do, a new experience. She can look at it and be reminded of how awesome I am. Which is not something many other gifts offer.

I totally recommend getting unique, thoughtful gifts at thrift stores, as long as the occasion allows. Obviously don’t get picky people gifts they won’t like, but your less uptight friends will likely appreciate thrift store gifts more than other gifts. There is plenty of awesome stuff hiding at thrift stores, things that would make awesome “real” gifts or hilarious “gag” gifts: crazy old records, ugly sweaters, beautiful and interesting vintage jewelry, housewares, decorations. I likely wouldn’t recommend getting someone a gift of clothes or shoes from a thrift store (unless you know they’d be cool with it – ugly sweater gag gifts aside), but I might be tempted to get a cute purse or belt or other accessories, especially if they’re vintage or something you couldn’t find anywhere else. Like all the awesome vintage jewelry. Seriously. So much crazy-awesome vintage jewelry. And I love it. And I have a birthday coming up. Just saying…

In short, if you have the time and the know-how (a.k.a. The Internets), you can come up with a great, thoughtful gift that someone will love WAY more than something cookie-cutter from Target. There’s tons to uncover. Have at it, everyone! And let me know if you think of a great gift idea.

AND – a Thriftstyle fashion tip for the day for the ladies: if you haven’t checked out the fashion blog Refinery29, get over there immediately. (Unless you don’t care about fashion, in which case you’re way ahead of the rest of us.) They have great hints on how to freshen up what’s already in your closet, great discounts on expensive clothing (I, personally, would never think about buying), great makeup and hair tips (TONS of awesome top-knots that have gotten me and my long, frizz-prone hair through this insanely hot summer without too many arguments), and more.

Hope you had a great weekend, Thriftstylers. More to come in the week ahead – and don’t forget about 50% off days at the Village Discount Outlets this coming Saturday and Sunday! Mark it in your calendars!

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Thriftstyle Fun: Enjoying what’s left of summer

So its already August 2nd. The temperatures are finally starting to settle down. There’s only so much summer left to enjoy (although, to be honest, my favorite season is up next!).

Don’t think that because you’re on a budget you can’t enjoy summer without going into debt! There are plenty of ways to enjoy the rest of this season on the cheap – and in a lot cases for absolutely NOTHING. And most of them involve my favorite thing to do in summer: spreading out a blanket and enjoying entertainment, beverages, and snacks with friends.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to enjoy without breaking my bank account:

  • The Chicago Park District: Oh man, you guys. The Chicago Park District is an awesome, awesome system. There are so many ways for you to take advantage of summer (and most other seasons, too) without spending a single cent.
  1. Theatre on the Lake: Its a bit late in the game to take advantage of this now, but Theatre on the Lake brings performances from other theatres around the city (including places like IO and Second City) to the awesome space the CPD has on the lakefront at Fullerton. The tickets aren’t free, but they are a LOT cheaper than most other theatres.
  2. Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks: Chicago Shakespeare Theatre is performing a professional production of The Taming of the Shrew, free for all, in parks all over the city. Go find one near you!
  3. Movies in the Park: 176 screenings of current and classic movies in 128 citywide parks through Oct. 26. I guarantee there is one or more at a park near you or one accessible to you by public transit. You could even join me on August 25th at Oz Park for the showing of The Wizard of Oz.
  4. GO TO THE BEACH: Enough said.
  5. Go to a Park: Seriously. Spend an afternoon reading and relaxing at a park. I recommend Welles Park, Winnemac Park, Millennium Park, Oz Park, Palmisano Park (really – go check that one out, its beautiful!) and there are hundreds more. Its great to be around nature, spread out, lay in the sun and relax.
  6. CPD Open Swims: As I mentioned above, there are hundreds of parks. And some of them have indoor and outdoor pools. And these pools have open swims on the weekend. So you can go and cool off, hang out, do some tanning, whatever you want. TAKE ADVANTAGE!
  • The Ravinia: While not exactly free, lawn tickets are cheap for most of the performances and only $10 for Chicago Symphony Orchestra shows (and if you have a student ID laying around, CSO performances are FREE for you!). Getting there is super easy by car, bike, or Metra. And its a beautiful and relaxing way to spend an afternoon or evening. I love the Ravinia.
  • Go see a cheap movie: If you’re looking for a way to escape the heat, go see a cheap movie at one of the lovely, old movie theatres in Chicago. I’m not talking about IMAX. I’m talking about vintage charm, cheap tickets, and cool, cool AC. I recommend The Music Box Theatre in Lakeview on Southport (great foreign, classic and indie films), The Logan Theatre in Logan Square on Milwaukee (which they recently remodeled and is now super swanky with a new lounge), and The Davis Theatre in Lincoln Square on Lincoln (great neighborhood to walk around in).
  • Explore a new neighborhood: There are plenty to choose from. I forget about the far North and South sides of the city entirely sometimes. There are so many great places to walk around and its a great way to find some cheap eats and thrift stores!
  • Grab a bike and find a trail: Pack a book, some snacks, some water, and hit one of the hundreds of trails around the city and suburbs. Bike up to the Botanic Gardens, through the forest preserves, or try my personal favorite, the North Branch Trail. This trail is peaceful, goes through several parks and preserves that are great places to stop and relax, and you can ride all the way up to the Botanic Gardens if you like.

There are lots of other ways to enjoy this city, spending little to no money. And going out to eat doesn’t have to be a huge expense either. Eat at home and just get cocktails. Or share appetizers. Or hit a place that’s BYOB. As long as you plan ahead, there’s no reason to over-spend in order to enjoy yourself.

What are some of YOUR favorite ways to enjoy the city on the cheap?

Dollar Stores and Amazon Subscriptions

Made my first official Thriftstyle visit to a dollar store today. Went to the Dollar Tree on Western just South of Lawrence. Walking distance both to my current place and my soon-to-be place.

I’ve obviously been to a dollar store before. Several times. But mostly just for fun. There was a dollar store walking distance to my childhood home. It was a place my friends and I would go to hang out and buy cheap candy and hair accessories as tweens and where my mom and I would go to kill a few minutes while waiting for a hair appointment (I miss you, Gallery of Hair!). I never really took them seriously as a staple in my shopping routine.

Until today.

I went with a list of items to purchase. You know me, I love a good list. I wanted to take a look at plastic sandwich bags (Ziploc bags), tissues and multi-purpose cleaning wipes (Lysol/Clorox wipes). I also wanted to see if they sold baking ingredients, particularly chocolate chips and nuts. I didn’t find any chocolate chips and no nuts specifically for baking (just ones in trail mixes and such) but I did find everything else on my list. One package of cleaning wipes, 2 boxes of Puffs tissues, and one package of plastic sandwich bags later and I had spent only $4.38. A steal! Especially considering that Puffs tissues are more expensive than the cheap-brand Homelife (Jewel brand) tissues I typically buy and are softer/higher quality. So I was quite impressed and look forward to discovering how else I can score by going to the dollar store.

I also decided to start a new Amazon subscription today. If you don’t know – and I assume most of you do – you can now create subscriptions for many products sold through Amazon:

  • Products you subscribe to are automatically shipped to you at the interval of your choice (once a month, once every 2 or 3 months, etc.)
  • You get a DISCOUNT on the regular, one-time price (usually 5%)
  • You get FREE SHIPPING for all subscription shipments
  • You pay when the order is shipped
  • They send you email reminders before each shipment (giving you time to change your address or payment method if needed)
  • And you can cancel whenever you want!

Its a great program. I currently use it for my vitamins – and today I just added Nature’s Path Blueberry Cinnamon Flax Organic Cereal. Its $19.89 every three months for six 14-oz boxes. That comes out to $3.31/box which is cheaper than the boxes of Kashi and/or Fiber One I’ve been buying at Jewel. Plus my friend informed me today that Kashi cereal was found to have all kinds of chemicals in it. After some quick internet research I found this was correct – and also that Nature’s Path was the only “natural” cereal tested to be actually, fully natural. As I mentioned in my post on food, always do the research!

I am going to be doing some price comparisons over the next few weeks to see if things I regularly purchase (dried cranberries, nuts, toilet paper, cat food, etc.) would be cheaper through Amazon subscriptions. Its certainly more convenient than having to go to the store.

Finally, I came across a delicious, healthy and cheap (!) cookie recipe today. It requires two ingredients (bananas and oats) and the add-ins (chocolate chips, nuts, spices, etc.) of your choice. You simply smush the bananas and the oats together, mix in whatever you want, and bake for 10-15 mins at 350 degrees. They are awesome. Enjoy!

Thriftstyle Weekend: Craigslist and an afternoon of thrifting!

So I have acquired some exciting things through thriftstyle living in the past couple days.

Thriftstyle FRIDAY

I got this little number through Craigslist:

It was $40 for the dresser and $15 for the mirror which was a STEAL compared to all the other vintage-y mirrored dressers on Craigslist. And it was easy to pick up (thanks to my little brother and his awesome SUV). I plan on painting it a bright green and spray painting the drawer pulls a bit darker so it looks something like this on the other end:

Needless to say, the possibilities are endless and I am SUPER excited. I will of course post pictures once its complete (likely after my move September 1st).

Allow me to speak highly of Craigslist for a second (although I will post something larger about the endless wonders of Craigslist in the future): I love Craigslist. If you’re not using it, get on it. I’ve gotten dressers, bookshelves, kitchen tables, coffee tables, bikes, odd-jobs, acting gigs, modeling gigs and more. I go on there to check things out at least once a day. I am obsessed.

Thriftstyle SATURDAY

Today some co-workers and I went to brunch at an awesome little diner called Cozy Corner Restaurant and Pancake House. We each got a combo meal (they got biscuits and gravy, I got french toast – includes eggs and a side of sausage, bacon or ham) and with tax and tip it came out to about $12/person. Not bad. And the service and food were great. Highly recommend it.

Then we did a little thrifting. We went to two stores, the Village Discount Outlet on Milwaukee near Armitage and the Unique on Elston near Addison and Kimball. I found a great shoe at the VDO, but unfortunately I couldn’t find its mate. So I walked away from VDO empty-handed (mostly because its hard to buy things at full price when I know there’s a half-price sale coming up on 8/11 and 8/12).

At the Unique I didn’t find a whole lot, but after browsing around everything a couple times I settled on a couple accessories. I found a great brown side-strap purse:

I love small purses because I hate carrying around more than I need. As a result I have a lot of clutches. But I always jump when I find a great, small side strap because its nice not to have anything in your hands, especially walking around in the summer. I have a small one similar to this but its leather and the dye tends to rub off on gauzier shirts/dresses. So this one was perfect – especially at only $2.99.

I then found this lovely pearl choker:

Which will be perfect to wear with the cream colored blouse I posted a couple entries ago. And also my awesome lace dress from H&M. And my blue, vintage-looking sundress and…suffice it to say it was a really exciting find – at only $1.99! Unique stores are half-price every single Monday so I am excited to go back sometime soon.

I was pretty happy with my purchases. Also its great just to get out and explore new stores, get a feel for them so in the future when there’s a sale day (hello 8/11 and 8/12!) you know which stores have larger kitchenware departments, which have more stylish clothing and accessories, which are more organized, etc. For instance, after exploring I know I’m definitely hitting the VDO on Kedzie at Irving for kitchenware (half-price wine glasses!) and the VDO on Roscoe near Damen to look for clothing and accessories.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, thriftstylers!

Thriftstyle Limits: The things I just won’t thrift

I know. I know.

I said I intend to buy everything at thrift and dollar stores (or generally “used” such as at garage sales and Craigslist). But, truth be told, there are just some things I refuse to buy used or super cheap.

The things I won’t buy used include:

  • Silverware/kitchen utensils: These things can be found so cheap in other places that it just doesn’t make sense to be to buy it used (and it sort of grosses me out). Lots of the silverware I’ve seen at thrift stores is rusty or mangled or dirty. I just can’t bring myself to do it, especially when I can buy a brand new set of stainless steel silverware (20 pieces) for $15.49 on Amazon – which comes out to roughly 77 cents per piece of silverware. That’s pretty cheap.
  • Linens: I would probably buy something like a table cloth or a rug or curtains at a thrift store if it was in decent enough shape (not too dirty, stained, ripped, worn, etc.). But definitely not bed sheets. With all the cases of bed bugs going around, I just don’t want to take any chances. Also, I have a king-sized bed so I doubt I’ll be able to find sheets to fit my bed regardless.
  • Anything for my bathroom: With the exception of maybe a bathroom rug, curtain or other decorative things or things like storage bins, garbage cans, etc. I don’t think its worth it to buy bath mats, towels, sponges, etc. from a thrift store. Just makes me feel icky inside.
  • Undergarments: Just can’t do it y’all. Just. Can’t. Do. It. And considering you can buy underwear and bras brand new at Target for like $3/pair it doesn’t make sense. Also Victoria’s Secret sends me a coupon for a free pair of panties like once a month. So I think I’m set for the rest of my life already.

Now if I happen to find the above things NEW at a thrift store, I would obviously buy them. I’m not a dumb-dumb.

I also feel like there are a lot of things I would definitely buy at thrift stores that I likely won’t be able to find much of. Things like Brita filters (I don’t need one now anyway because our fridge has a water/ice cube dispenser in the door), closet organizers, storage bins, etc.

I probably won’t buy gifts used. Unless I’m gifting someone with cute coffee mugs or decorative things or books or something. Gag gifts will be fun to buy at the thrift store. And I am really going to make it a point to ask people to buy birthday and Christmas gifts for me at thrift stores if they can.

Things I won’t buy at dollar stores (super cheap):

  • Most toiletries: I have really sensitive eyes and skin and care too much about my health to mess around with weird chemicals. So I will shell out the money for expensive contact solution, lotion, bath soap, etc. I get most of my bath soap and lotion free from my mother anyway. She seems to buy in bulk from Bath & Body Works and then realizes she doesn’t want it all. This is where I swoop in…
  • I uh….I think that’s about it really…

Things I will ABSOLUTELY buy at dollar stores (super cheap):

  • Cleaning products
  • Paper goods
  • Garbage bags
  • Candy
  • CANDY 
  • CANDY!!!!        Enough said.
  • Candles
  • Office/arts and crafts supplies
  • Greeting cards
  • Wrapping paper/gift bags
  • Party supplies
  • Gag gifts 
  • And lots, lots more

To be honest, I am actually really excited about all the possibilities that lie ahead as far as dollar stores go. Things I never would have even thought to buy there that I will be saving SO MUCH MONEY on in the future. Insane. Absolutely insane.

I am going to pick up a used vintage dresser that I found on Craigslist tonight. So look out for my upcoming post about the wonders of Craigslist!

And check out this deal on Bloomspot for The Drawing Room! I love saving money on awesome food and cocktails!

Thriftstyle Spending: Make it count!

There are lots of ways to get carried away with spending, even when you’re only buying things at thrift and dollar stores. You’ll find yourself thinking: “What do you mean don’t buy that ill-fitting, sequins-covered, bright red sweater with crazy-huge shoulder pads! Its only $4! And I’m TOTALLY going to wear it ALL THE TIME!”  True story. And I wore it once. To an ugly sweater party. But I keep holding on to it because I don’t want to think I wasted my money. And $4 isn’t all that much, but $4 multiplied by a whole closet full of crap I don’t wear is a lot. A lot of money I could have spent on delicious cocktails instead. No matter how cheap it is, if you buy something you never use, its still a waste of money. 

And here at Thriftstyle Living the rule on spending is to “make it count!”

Here are some tips I’ve developed to make sure I’m getting the most bang for my buck. Hopefully you can learn from my years of wasteful spending – although sometimes you just need to get burned to learn…

  • Never underestimate the power of lists. Always plan ahead. If you go into a thrift store with a rough idea of what you want/need, you won’t be as tempted to buy that ugly grandma sweater because your hunting instincts will be focused on other things. I always keep a couple lists in my wallet so I can keep the things I want/need the most at the front of my brain. At the moment I have a “fashion” list and a “things for the new house” list and I am “not allowed” to buy anything other than what’s on those lists. Of course I buy things that aren’t on those lists sometimes. I’m only human (and a sucker for a really great [enter most pieces of clothing/accessories here]). Whether or not I am buying something from one of my lists, I always make sure to follow…
  • The rules of buying. After successfully and unsuccessfully buying things throughout my life, I’ve come up with a few “rules of buying” that I follow every single time I buy something. If an item I’m thinking of buying doesn’t make the cut, I don’t buy it. Plain and simple. I want to make my spending count! So here are the rules of buying :
  1. Always try it on. Always. I don’t know how much crap I’ve bought because it was AWESOME and then I get home and it looks horrendous on me. So now I make sure I try everything on. EVERYTHING. Most thrift stores don’t have fitting rooms, so I usually fill my cart/arms with lots of stuff and then hunker down in front of one of the full-length mirrors throughout the store. Dress appropriately for the occasion. I usually wear some combo of leggings and a tank top with a easily removable boyfriend shirt/tunic over it so I can try things on. You are looking to make sure that things not only fit, but that they hang well on you. Just because you can pull those pants up over your hips doesn’t mean they’ll look good when they get there. So spend some serious time considering everything you try on.
  2. Think about what buying that item will entail. If its a decorative piece, do you have a place to put it in your home or will it just lead to more clutter? If its something from housewares, is it something you can microwave and put through the dishwasher or is it cheap plastic junk? If its a piece of clothing (the area where I personally am most likely to blow money on stupid purchases) can you wash and wear it right after purchasing? Or does it require mending/tailoring that you either can’t or will be too lazy to do yourself or will wind up costing a ton to have someone else do? Try to either buy a complete outfit or think about how each purchase will fit in with whatever you already own. For instance, I bought the Old Navy blue Oxford shirt, the summer scarf, and the thick brown leather belt to make a complete outfit but all of those pieces also fit with lots of other things in my wardrobe = great purchases. On the contrary, I bought a beautiful vintage lace dress one time but wound up spending SO MUCH MONEY getting it shortened, buying underclothes (it was cream colored and semi-sheer), and buying matching shoes. So spend a little time thinking about what will go into wearing/using the item you want to buy. If its going to fall apart after one use/wear or its going to cost a ton of time, energy, or, most importantly, money to use/wear, it might be best to put it back.
  3. This one might seem obvious but its something I used to overlook all the time: do you really, actually, honestly want/need this item? If its something  that makes you cry with joy or do a jig in the middle of the store like no one’s watching, then absolutely buy it (if it also passes the other rules). If its something you like, its fine, its only $3, who cares, but when you get home you know you’re going to bury it on a shelf or in a closet and forget about, then definitely put it back. I’ve bought a lot of stuff I had no feelings about either way because, whatever, its cheap. This is wasted money.
  • Shop around! I am a huge believer in making a day/night out of thrifting. The more you shop around, the more sure you’ll be about purchases, the better your purchases will be, the better your spending habits will be! If you set yourself a limit for the day/week (I’m going to these x number of stores before I make a purchase) you’ll wind up making better decisions and also training yourself not to spend recklessly. Patience is the ultimate virtue in Thriftstyle Living – if you require lots of instant gratification this is probably not the lifestyle for you. Perfect example: I was on the hunt for non-plastic bowls that would last me a while. I went to one store after work on a Monday and found some cute bowls that would match the kitchenware I already had decently enough. But I decided to hold out. Tuesday after work I went to two more stores. And at the first store I found nothing. At the second store I found bowls that were a perfect match for the rest of my kitchenware. How disappointed would I have been if I had bought the bowls from Monday night and then found these bowls later on? Pretty effing disappointed. So hold out until you find that perfect purchase! Your bank account and your sense of long-term fulfillment will thank you!
  • Wait for discount days! Tagging onto the last tip, the more patient you are, the less you will pay in the end. If you follow the major thrift store chains (Village Discount Outlet and Unique) they often have special discount days where everything is half off (and they also have certain colored tags that are half off everyday – there really isn’t any rhyme or reason to the colored tags as far as I can tell, but its awesome when something you want ends up with one!). If you’re looking for something you want but don’t immediately need, it might be best to wait for a discount day. For instance, I am looking for a set of unique vintage wine glasses. This is something I want, but don’t need by any certain time. So I am going to wait for the upcoming “Back to School” discount days at the Village Discount Outlets (August 11th and 12th). Most of the ones I’ve seen are 90 cents a glass, but since I don’t need them immediately, why not wait until they’re 45 cents a glass?

So, after much patience and deliberating, you’ve finally made it home with your purchases (and, more importantly, left a good deal of stuff at the store). Now what?

Well, just as important as making sure your purchases are good ones is making sure that you take good care of your purchases so they last as long as possible. And, as you may have guessed, I have plenty of tips on that as well!

  • Properly protect everything! This means spraying special fabrics with protective sprays (especially leather and suede); putting heel-pads on shoes so you don’t wear through them in a week; wearing aprons while you cook or clean so you don’t get unwanted stains; covering tables with table cloths; properly wrapping and storing kitchenware so it doesn’t break before you get home; putting padding on the bottoms of furniture so it doesn’t scratch hardwood floors, etc. Do what you can ahead of time to avoid having to repair or throw things out later on.
  • Try not to wash clothes as often. Washing your clothes helps with smell but harms your fabrics. Over time, washing your clothes leads to pilling, stretching or shrinking, fading colors, snags, and more. I don’t sweat very much throughout the day so I try to wear clothes 2 or 3 times before washing them. Air-cleaning clothes (letting them hang overnight) and Febreeze should become your best friends.
  • Properly wash and dry your clothes. When I do finally wash my clothes, there are some tricks I use to extend their life. I make sure all the hooks are hooked and all zippers are zipped to avoid snags. I turn anything with lots of details (sequins, glitter, special buttons, etc.) inside out so the details don’t get ruined. I wash all my clothes on the delicate/energy-saving cycles. ALL of them. I also wash everything on cold to avoid wearing out fabrics and fading colors. I use as little detergent as possible and I avoid bleach at all costs – chemicals of any kind add stress to fabrics. I put extremely delicate fabrics in washer bags to avoid them getting snagged or stretched. I try to air dry my clothes as much as possible (when I have the time) – not only does this help to extend the life of your clothing (I’m looking at your expensive, fancy, Victoria’s Secret undergarments, ladies – nothing more annoying than a bra that gets bent out of shape) but it cuts down on your energy costs as well! I don’t really have clothing that requires ironing (this is on purpose, believe me) but I plan on buying some wrinkle reducer and a steamer in the future as these do less harm to your fabrics than your trusty old iron does.
  • Properly store your clothing. I highly recommend getting some plastic storage bins from Target or the Container Store and storing all  your clothes by season so you have as little as possible in your closet at all times. This will help by not having clothes constantly rubbing against each other and wearing each other out ([insert all your stupid sex jokes here] – we all saw them coming). NO WIRE HANGERS. Joan Crawford knows what she’s freaking talking about, people. Get some plastic or wooden ones and use padding whenever possible to avoid stretching or making permanent hanger outlines at the tops of your shirts. And properly store your shoes on racks or in one of those things with the pockets you can hang over your door. This makes sure shoes don’t get kicked around on your floor. Its well-spent money to get some closet organizers to properly store everything you have. The longer the life of your clothing, the less you have to spend later on.
  • Mend what needs mending or else throw it out. If you don’t get it fixed, it will either not be worn or get broken further. So get off your butt, do what needs to be done (or take it to someone who can do it) or toss it.
  • Get rid of some stuff. Seriously. The less stuff you have, the more you’ll pay attention to the stuff you actually use/wear. And if you don’t use/wear it, why are you keeping it around?

So remember, make your spending count, my lovely Thriftstylers. The less you spend on stupid knick-knacks and camel-toe pants, the more you can spend later on traveling and going out.

Thriftstyle Eating: Sacrificing for the greater good!

I eat out a decent amount. Lots of people wonder how I am able to do that while keeping my waistline and bank account in shape. And, for me at least, its all about sacrificing for the greater good!

What does this mean? A couple things.

Keeping my bank account in shape: I try not to eat out more than one meal a day and more than a few meals a week. I basically eat the same thing for breakfast all the time and the same thing for lunch for the whole week. This way I can spend as little as possible at the grocery store (about $30-40/week) and maximize my eating out money to make my eat-out meals really count. Dividing that $30-40/week by 5 days means I spend about $6-8/day on BOTH breakfast and lunch (thus having more money to spend on amazing meals out a couple times a week – typically one dinner and one brunch). Here’s a sample of what I typically eat for breakfast and lunch:

  • Breakfast: I eat pretty much the same thing for breakfast everyday – some combination of greek yogurt (whichever brand is on sale), high fiber cereal (whatever brand is on sale), a cut-up banana (which are always cheap), and whatever other fruit is on sale for that season (fall I typically have a lot of apples, summer I typically have a lot of berries).
  • Lunch: I have something that is easy to make and store for the week (so I can make it on Sunday, carry it to work on Monday and leave it in the fridge) and that is easy to prepare at work. I might make high-fiber, high-protein pasta with lots of mixed vegetables; black bean wraps with lots of other veggies and some cheese; tuna salad wraps with carrots on the side, etc.

I have no problems eating the same thing day in and day out if it means I can have a ridiculous meal and some killer cocktails a couple times a week. Sacrifice for the greater good!

The other way I help my bank account stay in shape is, when eating out, I look for restaurants that have specials and/or groupon deals. If there’s one I’ve been wanting to try I might put an alert out on those group-deal sites. Or I look for food and drink specials online. For instance, I went to La Madia today (http://www.dinelamadia.com), one of my absolute favorite up-scale pizza places in the city, and got the lunch special with a friend. You share a salad, a pizza and some cute little cookies – and its only $19 TOTAL. So with tax and tip our lunch came out to roughly $13/person. AND they run this same special Sun-Thurs after 9pm – AND its only $10 more to add two glasses of wine to it. So I look for and keep in mind specials like this so I can enjoy delicious food without going broke. I totally recommend joining the email lists of restaurants you want to try or restaurants you love because oftentimes they send out deals or free meals for birthdays (seriously, I eat for free the whole week of my birthday from these email birthday deals) and info on specials they are running. Your inbox might be full, but, hey, its all about sacrificing for the greater good!

Speaking of specials, Chicago runs a whole bunch of city-wide specials on food all the time. I always check out Restaurant Week and Chef’s Week and other special events (like the Chefs on the Grill event I mentioned in my first post) so I can try food from a whole bunch of restaurants on the cheap.

Lastly, since I don’t eat a lot, eating out with other people is ALWAYS a good idea for me. I absolutely adore specials where you can share food “small plates” style because I get to try a lot of stuff without worrying about finishing my meal or paying a ridiculous amount of money. And, whenever possible, I try to turn every eat-out meal into 2 or 3 meals by taking home leftovers to eat for lunch and/or dinner the next day. It helps that I don’t require a lot of food to live and that I don’t mind eating the same thing over and over.

Keeping my waistline in shape: I mentioned in my first post that everyone at the Joffrey has a free membership to the Chicago Athletic Clubs and that the Joffrey itself offers free classes at its location to staff. So that helps – I typically do pilates and/or yoga a few times a week.

Food-wise, while I try to keep my costs down, I also try to keep my calorie, protein and fiber intake up. If you’re worried about your health and your money like I am, get on some email lists that help by sending workout tips, advice on food, recipes, and more. I highly recommend PopSugar’s “FitSugar” edition and LearnVest. Some of the advice seems obvious and stupid at first, but I’ve found a crazy amount awesomely healthy – and cheap! – recipes (LearnVest has a lot of under $10 recipe posts) as well as information on food that I never realized (such as which fruits are highest in fiber, info about buying organic, etc.) – I will post information I find here so you can share in the awesome Internet joy!

I typically don’t eat a lot of food (just how my insides roll) so I try to pack it in so I’m getting proper nutrition. Taking daily vitamins helps and I scoured the internet for information on which vitamins are really important for someone like me (younger female) versus someone not like me (older male). Based on my research, I take a Vitamin D + Calcium + Potassium supplement, a Magnesium supplement, an Omega-3 supplement, a women’s multivitamin, and a probiotic. I have regular shipments set up through Amazon which cuts down costs a bit. Aside from vitamins I also try to get the most bang for my buck, as I mentioned above, by buying foods that are high in fiber, protein, and vitamins. Its all about spending the extra time online doing research and actually turning products around to look at the nutrition facts. I’m the person at the store that people get frustrated with because I spend 10 minutes comparing two brands of pasta. Here are my major players:

  • Greek yogurt is awesome for protein (and fiber depending on the brand) and I use it not only as yogurt for breakfast, but also as a replacement for mayo, sour cream and more.
  • High-fiber/High-protein versions of everything from pasta to tortillas to cereal. I spend the extra money for these versions because they’re worth it (and really not much more money).
  • Fruits and vegetables are amazing. Eat them. Lots of them. And if you don’t worry about buying organic (if you do the research, it typically doesn’t matter) and buy whatever’s in season, you won’t have to spend a ton of money on them. Large bags of carrots and bunches of bananas are always cheap so I keep plenty of those on hand.
  • Protein replacements for meat like black beans and canned tuna are high in protein (and sometimes fiber) and not as expensive (or unhealthy) as that beef or chicken. AND they don’t require cooking which saves me time and energy. Although every once in awhile I might get some chicken breasts to add to pasta.
  • Nuts are relatively cheap (if you buy whatever’s on sale) and added to some raisins or craisins make for a healthy and yummy snack on the go. This is typically what I eat first thing in the morning when I get to work and I’m still waking up.

Those are my staples. This is how I roll.

So important ways to eat well without spending a ton of money or gaining insane amounts of weight:

  • The Internet is your friend – research, research, research! And get on some email lists!
  • Spend time looking at and comparing the food you buy so you are always buying what is healthiest and what is on sale.
  • Decide which meals you want to eat-in and which you’d like to eat out so you can plan accordingly. Some people like to cook dinner. Some people like having an easy, no-thought lunch. Whatever you prefer, figure it out and make it happen.
  • Then, make yourself a budget and STICK TO IT so you can minimize spending on eat-in meals and maximize spending money for eat-out meals.
  • Exercise. Duh.

Let me know if you have any questions. And enjoy this awesome recipe for delicious (and high protein!) tuna salad:

Protein Packed Tuna Salad Pitas

Ingredients

High fiber/High protein tortillas
1 can tuna canned in water without salt
As much Greek yogurt as you enjoy
1/2 small onion diced (purple or red onion adds color)
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1 tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

Directions
Open can of tuna, drain it, and place in a bowl
Stir in Greek yogurt to the consistency you want
Add bell pepper, onion, and parsley
Salt and pepper to taste.
Spread in the tortilla and enjoy!

My Thriftstyle Living so far…

These are all the things I have purchased at thrift stores so far. I am not counting things I purchased previous to Father’s Day 2012 (6.17.2012) as this is when I began to take thrift store shopping as a lifestyle choice seriously (not just something I did every couple years as a weird weekend activity with friends).

On Father’s Day 2012 I went to the Village Discount Outlet (http://www.vdoil.com) on Roscoe, just west of Damen. I purchased:

  • Old Navy blue Oxford shirt
  • Blue summer scarf
  • Thick, brown leather belt
  • Forever 21 silver skirt
  • Vintage blouse to go with silver skirt (check out the tag on the blouse for a hilarious coincidence!)
  • Nude cami-tank to go under sheer shirts

I purchased all 6 of these items (2 complete outfits and some extras, basically) for under $10. I didn’t realize that Father’s Day was a half-off day at the Village Discount Outlets so that was an added bonus. I definitely recommend looking up their half-off days which are listed on their website.

On June 30th, I went to the Unique thrift store (http://www.uniquethriftstore.com) in the Brickyard Mall (Diversey and Narragansett) with my mother and sister. We purchased:

  • Three summer dresses for my sister
  • Gold belt for my sister (to go with one of the dresses)
  • New pants and a sweatshirt for my mother (clothes to go paint-balling in)
  • A black shirtdress with white and red dots for me
  • Gold belt for me (to go with the shirtdress)
  • Matching stoneware kitchen set for me  including: 6 large plates, 4 small plates, 4 mugs
  • Four drinking glasses for me

We purchased all of these items for under $40. Lots of half-price items (most thrift stores have certain colored tags that are half-off each day) and the housewares section at this Unique seemed to be cheaper than most of the other thrift stores I’ve been to. But still…under $40 for all of that was unbelievable to me. I think this was the trip that really sold me on the idea of getting everything I can at thrift stores. Especially because the dress, belt, and kitchen set that I got were so much more interesting and unique than I would have found at a store like Forever 21 or Target or Bed Bath & Beyond.

Today I went to two Village Discount Outlets (one on Lawrence east of Kimball and one on Kedzie north of Irving) on the search for bowls – preferably ones that either matched or were close to matching the rest of the kitchen stuff I bought – and interesting vintage wine glasses. I actually found five bowls at the one on Kedzie that were a perfect match for the rest of my kitchenware. And I paid under $5 for all five of them. Thrifting just keeps getting better.

Some friends and I are going thrifting again on Saturday. I’ll post anything we purchase!

Here are pictures of all my recent purchases:

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Thriftstyle Living: My attempt to save money and pay off debt while remaining sane, stylish and happy.

Well. Hello there. My name is Luciana Bonifazi. I live in Chicago. I am an arts administrator, improv/stand-up comedian, singer, “hobbyiest” model, odd-job-er, and all around classy lady. Feel free to google me. There is plenty to check out.

I started this blog in order to document a challenge I am giving myself to only shop at thrift stores and dollar stores for everything I need: clothes, shoes, accessories, housewares, appliances, decorations, cleaning supplies…everything. I will also include under “thrift stores” garage sales and Craiglist (basically anything that’s used and cheaper than it normally would be). This obviously doesn’t include buying groceries and I’ll have to cheat for things I absolutely need but cannot find at thrift/dollar stores (although I am going to give finding everything I need the old college try before giving up and going to Target). I am doing this to help move towards being debt-free and saving up a decent amount of money. I would also like to live a lower-budget lifestyle while not having to give up everything I love about life (eating out, looking good, feeling good, experiencing new things, and seeing lots of live performance). I would rather spend $20 on a concert at Lincoln Hall than on a dress from H&M (and in most cases, I can accessorize better and find more unique clothing at thrift stores anyway).

I am going to be as honest and open in this blog as I can be without inviting people to steal my identity. So I will provide a general idea of what’s going on in my life without providing super-specifics. And if you have a question about anything just ask. I want to make my life an open book so other people can attempt what I am attempting right along with me. So, that being said…

…here is my current situation:

Income: My full time job (Marketing at The Joffrey Ballet) plus my supplementary income (improv and stand up comedy shows, modeling gigs, random odd-jobs) puts me in the $35-36K per year range (leaning lower end than higher end). The supplementary income is inconsistent so its hard to know exactly how much that adds to my stable income. But $35-36K is a decent estimate (this is after taxes, social security, medicare, health insurance, 403B contributions, etc.).

Expenses: 

  • $587.50/month for rent (Will be $500/month starting 9/1 – moving into an awesome new house!)
  • Around $60/month in utilities (ComEd and People’s Gas)
  • Around $90/month for my phone bill (iPhone on AT&T)
  • $9.99/month for Spotify (Perhaps you might say this is an unnecessary expense, but I love music and it keeps me sane while I’m sitting at a desk/commuting around the city all day. Also I ended my Netflix account as I wasn’t using it as often as Spotify, so that saves me $7.99/month. So I will politely ask you to back the eff off. )
  • Around $30-40/week for groceries. (More on this in my next post on food.)
  • $40-60/month for student loans (Loans are consolidated (around $42K from undergrad AND grad school). I am on the income-based repayment plan. Hoping for complete loan-forgiveness in 10 years while I continue to work for not-for-profit organizations.)
  • $86/month for unlimited CTA pass (taken out of my paycheck, pre-taxes)
  • I put about $300/month consistently towards my credit card debt (about $6K total on two cards) while also putting half of any supplementary income (and half of the money I am saving on rent, starting in September) towards debt. I am hoping to be free of credit card debt in the next year or so.
  • $50 goes into my savings account twice a month. Not really an “expense” per say but its money I don’t have readily available for spending. I would like to build up an emergency fund of about $5K and then open another savings account to save for things like taking classes, major purchases, vacations, etc. I set up a new savings account as well as auto-transfers for the 1st and 15th of every month back in August 2011 (about a third of the way to $5K right now). I highly recommend auto-transfers for savings because the money is automatically moved out before you can even think about spending it. The only way to save, as far as I’m concerned. I also try to save some extra money when I have it available. Once my rent lowers in September, I’ll be trying to save at least half of the $87.50 extra I was paying each month (and putting the other half towards credit card debt).
  • Other miscellaneous expenses (car related, health related, etc.) which I will discuss as they come up. For instance this month I had to spend $85 on a new car city sticker and $99 renewing my license plates. So I’m a little strapped for spending money this month.

Things I get for FREE: I always get upset at articles written on sites like LearnVest (A really great financial site for women – if you’re not checking it out, get on it. Lots of great advice and inspiration for cleaning things up financially.) because they explain how “I TOTALLY got out of $30K in debt in 3 months!” but then neglect to mention until the end that the chick was receiving financial help from her parents the whole time. So, again, in an attempt to be completely honest and open, this section will outline everything I don’t have to pay for that most people typically do.

  • Car: My dad bought my siblings and I cars. They’re not fancy. They’re 10-15-yrs-old, cheap, used cars. Like the kind of cars you buy from old people when they can’t drive anymore. So, luckily, I don’t have a crazy car payment. I hardly use said car as well so I spend maybe $40-50 filling up my tank once a month or less. I use the CTA/walk/bike whenever I can and avoid cabs like the plague. (Unless someone else offers to pay – I’m not an idiot.) I will not complain about having to walk a mile or two (or sometimes more if its not crazy hot or cold out).
  • Car insurance: This is the only thing my parents still pay for and its because we’re all on some kind of family-policy-whatever-thing. But this saves me about $150/month.
  • Gym membership: The Joffrey has an awesome partnership with the Chicago Athletic Clubs so we all get free memberships. This is a pretty sweet deal that saves me the $42/month I had been spending on an Xsport membership.
  • Other random workout classes: The Joffrey also offers its own classes. So I go to a few pilates classes a month at no charge.
  • Work on my car: My dad is a mechanic. So I pay nothing (or very little for parts) when I need my car fixed.
  • Free meals, drinks, events, performances, etc.: As an awesome person (and, more realistically, as a girl) I sometimes get things for free. Just a fact. Being completely honest. Also The Joffrey provides me with comp tickets to events/performances every now and again. I’ll also share my free/cheap event secrets with you on this blog, as they come up.

What I like to spend money on: First of all, let me be clear. This section’s title is a little misleading. Mostly because I don’t think I ever “like” spending money. My father definitely passed his “anxiety about everything” genes onto me so spending money on anything makes me a little anxious. That being said, there are a few things that I don’t mind spending money on, when I have it. My main concern in life is having as many new experiences as possible so I tend to spend money on social things rather than material things.

  • Concerts: I go to a ton of concerts. I love live music. I tend to stick to shows in the $15-50 price range at venues like Ravinia, Lincoln Hall, Riviera, Aragon, Park West. (Although I did spend about $90 on Fiona Apple tickets because she is my idol musically.) I’m not hitting the bigger acts/venues with outrageous ticket prices all that often, BUT (shhhh, shhhh) sometimes my dad is able to get me free tickets to shows at certain venues such as Lady Gaga at the United Center (we’re Italian, we know people) or will purchase me tickets for things like Roger Waters plays The Wall at Wrigley Field. My concert-ticket scrapbook is quickly running out of pages to fill, is the point I’m trying to make.
  • Eating/Drinking out: I love going to new bars and restaurants. Sometimes I save up and pay, sometimes other people pay, sometimes I get groupons (or whatever the other million sites are called). When I try a new restaurant or bar (or hit up an old favorite) I’ll talk about it here and be honest about what I had, how much it was and how it was paid for.
  • Events/Performances/Outings: I love going to events around the city and planning activities/outings for family and friends. I try to hit as many free events as I can (and I’ll certainly blog about some of the best free/cheap events in the city). In the summer I like to hit up the beach, BBQs and the Park District’s Open Swims and Movies in the Park, all of which are free entry, but you wind up paying for some snacks and beverages. As an example, I also attended the Park Grill’s “Chefs on the Grill” event which featured grilled items and cocktail pairings from more than 10 local chefs (I bought a ticket through Gilt City for $55, tickets at the door were around $90). As I mentioned above, working for the Joffrey gets me some complimentary tickets to performances at the Joffrey as well as other arts organizations in the city, but I also will pay for these from time to time – holding onto my grad school student ID helps with this, as do offers online. Most organizations such as museums, theatres, etc. have special days or seating sections that are free or cheap so I scour the internet for deals like this – I’m not snobby about going on crowded days or sitting in the balcony. (I’ll post about these things as well, as they come up.)
  • Traveling: I like to get out and explore so I travel a lot. Mostly domestically although I want to try to get over to Europe again in the next few years. I try to stay with friends or use Airbnb as its cheaper than staying in a hotel. And I use groupon and other sites for eating out, try to scour the internet for free events, buy groceries so I have breakfast and snacks covered for the trip – pretty much live on vacation the same way I live in Chicago.
  • Looking good: I am not by any means high maintenance when it comes to makeup, hair, fashion, etc. I wear makeup maybe once a month or less. I cut my hair maybe every 4-6 months (and my friend does it out of her parents’ basement for $20). I get a mani-pedi maybe once every 4-6 months. The only thing I pay for on a semi-consistent basis cosmetically is waxing and only because I have sensitive skin so shaving is a no-no and its only like $40 every month and a half. I do like looking stylish and I find that I am able to create more complete outfits (with accessories and more interesting looks) when I shop at thrift stores. I wear the clothes I’ve purchased at thrift stores way more often than I do the stuff I purchased from regular stores (mostly Victoria’s Secret, Express, H&M and Forever 21).

So. That is my current situation. That is what I’m working with.

What can you expect from this blog? Lots of things:

I am going to be, for the foreseeable future, buying anything I need (not including groceries and things I need but cannot find) from thrift stores and dollar stores. I will post entries about the thrift stores I visit, what I find, what I purchase, how much it was, etc. I’ll have lots of lovely photos. I’ll include tips on the best ways to thrift. Any deals I come across. And ways to save money on things that I can’t buy from thrift stores (groceries, meals out, entertainment, etc.). I’ll update you on any odd-jobs I do, how much I make, and how I came across them. There might be some random financial advice thrown in (I am far from a CPA or a personal financial adviser, so this is advice for real people, from a real person). And I might include other tips and tidbits as I go along.

Thanks for reading and coming on this journey with me. Should be fun. And, again, feel free to ask me any questions and I’ll try to answer them as honestly as possible.

Boring details out of the way…now let’s get to the fun stuff!