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Blog: Pam's Pennypinching With STYLE

Pam's recounting of how her ancestrally thrifty habits have helped her in modern life in ways none of her foremothers could have imagined!

Showing 5 posts from March 2008 for this blog.
A radio interview & a trip downtown
Monday, March 31, 2008

Was interviewed today on internet radio  with Sam and Manu on California Dreaming (look for 3/31) about my pennypinching as a starving artiste.  It was fun, and took me downtown.  My husband dropped me off, and I walked over to the "station" in a downtown high rise.  Used to work down there years ago and even know what the buildings were in another reincarnation. 

We had fun exchanging tips and thoughts on frugality - and rather than spend $ on downtown parking, I went home via the L.A. Metro (subway to you).  It cost $1.25 - and downtown parking is horrendous! I got my walk in - and spent some $ at the Out of the Closet thrift store at my stop in Hollywood. Beautiful new faux snakeskin sandals ($5) and a jacket for $1!!  But it all evened out.

I do wish the Metro went elsewhere other than just downtown and to Pasadena and Long Beach, etc.  for office commuters.  I would love to take public transportation to my Santa Monica class and avoid all that traffic, but I really haven't found a good way yet - It's still hard to use public transport here - although in Hollywood I am at the intersection of all the old trolley lines and have lots of options. It's reassuring to think that when and if the car goes down! 

But why are the subway cars so drab?  I think it's the lighting, I hate the lighting in subway cars - they make everyone look ill.  And the whole car is made out of beige plastic! Ugh.  The seat covers were nice - but couldn't they come up with a nice color for the walls and floors other than putty?  I don't remember the Paris Metro being that drab. 

But it was fast and relatively easy, even though I had to balance my newspaper and dress down, just like the old days in NYC, and wear my walking shoes.  What with the towering heels the fashionables are wearing around here, I don't think they see much of the Metro!



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How to Live After Losing a Job
Thursday, March 27, 2008

More and more people are worrying about losing their jobs - and even though I am a bit more stable nowadays than I was in many years of artistic "freelancing" in which I was ALWAYS losing a job(s) - I thought I would look back on what those years taught me.  What DID I DO?

  • Sold stuff- I had yard sales and thinned my vintage clothing and costume jewelry collection.  I recycled my can and bottle collection when I needed a few bucks for gas.  I sold old books to used book stores.  I sold anything lying around, like my ex-boyfriend's motorcycle engine.  I sold the old junker of a car when I got my new(er) one. I even tried to sell blood (not good at that).  You get the idea.  You have a lot of $ hanging around in extra stuff, and the only cost to you is your labor - and you will have lots of time on your hands.
  • Got funny jobs - I did promotional "modeling" - and handed out coffee and samples. I was a spritz woman in a department store.  I sold Mexican flowerpots. Look on craigslist under miscellaneous, and you can pick up $ to supplement your unemployment ins. money.
  • Oh - of course - get your unemployment $.  Follow the rules.  Notice that you can make up to a certain amount and not jeopardize your benefits, only make them string out a little longer...
  • What aid do you qualify for?  Check out local clinic(s) - food plans.  Also see if whatever professional or other organizations you have been a member of can help you out if the going gets really BAD. (I was helped by my church, a local clinic and an artistic organization...)
  • What can you now get for free?  I was able to qualilfy for free medications through the drug manufacturer of my medication - check out yours.
  • Or - get your meds through Walmart's $6 generic program, even if you have to switch meds (many are interchangeable). You can even do this by mail.
  • If you need a break - take an inexpensive vacation, like a weekend camping trip.  All you really need is a tent - the rest you can fake...
  • Make your hobbies pay - I made $ appearing at Ren Faires - which was a bus man's holiday - as I got to camp on the site, too! And they are always in lovely places.
  • Do chores for others - I picked up $ ironing once - Maybe you could clean a friend's house - haul something - garden....
  • Institute immediate austerity measures and count every penny.  Empty the penny jar if necessary. Remember, change is money, too.  And don't pay for anything you don't have to. Look for free entertainment - stay home and watch movies on TV -
  • Do surveys, sign up for survery research (good up to about age 50, then you are over the hill).
  • Write articles for sites like to make some pocket $ - Good practice and you can say you have been writing, which sounds legit...What do you know about?  Share it?
  • Teach/tutor.  You can do that informally - or though an agency.  It helps to have degree(s) for that.
  • Babysit?? Mow lawns?  (Remember the old days)  Cut someone's hair?  Turn up a hem or mend???
  • You can even go to a pawn shop and take your jewelry and valuables in for "protective custody" for a while until things improve.  They only give you 10% of the value - so don't let them keep the stuff - that's how they make $.  My instruments used to go in and out.  But I always redeemed them.

I hope this will give you some ideas that normally wouldn't occur to the more or less middleclass.  But I assure you, go on in the underground economy all the time. Oh, that's another thing - look around and see if there are any "underground economy" outlets (yard sales, sidewalk vendors of organges, swap meets) you can use right now - they are usually a lot cheaper than even Target....



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Redecorating?? Bargains are to be Found.
Thursday, March 20, 2008

My hubby and I find ourselves re-decorating the living room unbeknownest to ourselves.  We have just run into such bargains on living room furniture that we couldn't pass up and it has allowed up to upgrade our current decor.

The first thing to come in from a thrift shop was a very nice blue wing chair ($40!!) in great condition, as I had been coveting my husband's chair - which was getting tatty. (We had gotten it for $40 or so a few years ago & I had thought about slipcovering it - but I couldn't find any I liked and they would have cost more than this CHAIR.)

THEN my husband found ANOTHER recliner wingchair in a thriftshop for about $60 - bigger than the other chair (so that's the daddy chair & I have the mommy chair.) That chair is a nice rose pattern, and looks new, too.  When we went to the Pottery Barn to windowshop the other day, I was appalled to find similar chairs to ours at $400-500 a piece!! These chairs were really bargains.

THEN my husband decided to replace our computer typing chair (orig. $15) with a bigger executive chair we could use as an arm chair if company came by.  We saw there was a sale at an office store, 1/2 off - so my husband went, and saw a slightly damaged floor model (with blue upholstery - my stipulation) and asked the manager for a sale price and got it 1/2 off. ($170 chair for $90, the most $ to date).

We then ditched the little old couch we had from his bachelor apartment.  I tried to give it away on - but no luck, and it ended up in the trash, sorry to say.

THEN when we were at one of our favorite Salavation Army thrift shops in Pasadena, I saw an office computer desk, with a hutch for $39!! (worth at least $300) It was made in Denmark, with a nice veneer, and looked as if it had been a floor model, as there was no wear! So we are tossing/selling the little computer desk and assorted stands we have now and moving up.  The only trouble is getting it HOME.  But my husband says he can take the hutch off, the desk and take it home in the truck.  (I keep on saying there is a reason we keep the truck!) And a friend will help us get it up the one flight of stairs to the apartment.

So let's see, we have gotten 2 chairs @$500 ea retail + 1 chair $170 retail + office desk $300 retail  = totalling almost $1500 of furniture for $240!!! With deals like that, I don't know why people pay retail.  And it was fun patting ourselves on the back looking at the prices at the Pottery Barn, thinking of the savings.  We have much better things to do with the $ than line their pockets!

And this is NEW furniture.  I usually get vintage, but the upholstered pieces are better new(er).  One has to be on the lookout - and have an eye and not do it all at once - but I have been looking at apartment internet decorating sites and watching HGTV about small spaces, and gearing myself up for this, as it looks like we are staying around here for a while - and we have to think about maximizing space.  But we have a color scheme -  with our lt. yellow walls & white woodwork - sort of a colonial one - so blue is great - and the lt. flowered pattern, too - and our style is cozy cottage/shabby chic.  We certainly don't have the room to play with minimalism.

I think you would agree that getting ALL that furniture for less than 1/2 of a Pottery Barn or Costplus easy chair is a great deal! Just broadcasting to you all that it CAN be done. (If I am terribly thrifty I will try to SELL off the old computer desk and stand(s) - as I did with some furniture from MY bachelor apartment furnishings before Xmas...I made $300 from that one day of a yardsale & cleared out a lot of stuff...)

Then we have some furniture coming that I inherited from my parents (my old bedroom stuff, actually).  I included those pieces in my thinking about re-arranging the furniture in our home office (1/2 of the living room).

There was a lot of nice furniture at that Salvation Army - if I were an enterpreneur - I would have bought the matching set of bedroom drawers - because altho the yellowed finish was battered, the wood was solid underneath & would have responded well to refinishing! But I have a similar piece coming, so I passed.

So, why spend $$ at Walmart or Target on fiberboard furniture that will not last, when you can get such good deals on hardly used furniture or old solid wood vintage pieces??

Recession?  Ha!  we can cope.



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Recession?? Hits the News/Plus Budget Skiing
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Last Sunday in the L.A. Times Business Section ?? - the whole theme was "Bringing the High Cost of Living Down to Earth" - ha!  Have people just caught up on THAT?

According to the lead article in January we spent 3.9% more on basics - "The roof over your head, the food in your fridge, the visits to your doctor...than we did 12 months earlier in Southern California....And a government forecast says food in general will set you back 3.5% more this year."  Then they proceeded to tell tales which they thought were from "the front lines of frugality." 

Excuse me, I have to laugh - The 42 year old real esate saleswoman who suddenly realized that spending $10,000 a year on her wardrobe was a bit much!! And the guy who walks instead of taking out the Porsche!!

Have any of us ever done that???

But still we are in the cat bird's seat (It's Thurber, I like the sound of it) here - becaz we KNOW how to DO this.  All my designer clothes are from thrift shops, as I have said here many times.  My lastest handbag is, I know from my internet research, an early Marc Jacobs knockoff - but I got it for $3 - so who CARES?  And the sturdy plastic which almost passes for leather is much more practical for me - who has a tendency to do unexpected things like go up a ski lift in the SNOW, with her purse.  (That's for later.)

Because I live in L.A., I keep an eye on such things just for social survival - so if anyone asks about the bag, I can say, with glee, "Oh, it's a knock-off."  And it is a nice sort of turquoise color - good for Spring. And if it gets dirty, I can easily sponge it off.  I do have a GOOD red leather handbag (also a bargain) but it's really too fragile for everyday wear. 

But since handbags have become a fashion statement, I do switch around colored handbags with my outfits.  Makes me feel more secure, I do admit.  That and my real silver/turquoise jewelry (even though one bracelet is a 50's knock off I inherited from my mother.  Boy, do I get lots of compliments on that. And recently on my discount watch with a new leather band...)

Really, these people have NO idea.  I have been living in a neighborhood that for years was in Siberia - but on the edge of a very nice one and near Griffith Park, in a very nice friendly building.  My college Russian helped me communicate in the early days, as my Russian was better than my Armenian neighbor's English.  Who thought language study would be so practical?  And now I have studied some Spanish, so I can converse with my El Salvadorean neighbor lady. 

The rent is CONTROLLED and very reasonable, especially since I have lived here so long.  (There was another section abot how unaffordable the rents here in L.A. are.) We do a lot of our own maintenance - and bother the landlord as little as possible! Until recently, I kept up the little garden plot in front of the house - but now they have had a gardener in (& most of my garden ornaments disappeared!)

It has been declassee (unfashionable) for so long, that it's become a point of pride.  But gentrification is creeping along the street.  I just hope they don't tear this lovely building DOWN. After all, Bela Lugosi did DIE here in one of the front apts.  I would buy the apt. if I could - & maybe someday....who knows.  For years I have thought I would have to move out & somehow I am still here -

As for the snow.  I do profit from reading the paper in other ways.  My husband has a yen to go skiing (not the most frugal occupation, but he grew up doing it.)  And I read in Sunday Times about a local no frills ski hill in the Angeles Crest above Pasadena which had just opened.  It's Mount Waterman.  We checked it out last weekend and found that altho it was 80 degrees on the flats, there was snow at the summit and it was COLD.  We took the ski lift up just to check it out (it's worth it just for the ride & it's discounted.) And there is a warming hut above with a fire and beer and a great view over the valley.  

We can just DRIVE up there - no overnight - and the lift tix are cheap - And afterwards there's a charming place to eat down the road - Newcomb's Ranch - before you drive down the hill.  Really, it felt like a VACATION and all within our budget!  Now THAT's dealing with the recession in my mind, no?





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We are on the Mend! A needle & thread does it.
Friday, March 07, 2008

Last weekend, I found myself mending clothes to wear out - I have a lovely Indian skirt that I found was a bit fragile & had to sew on a seam or 2 or 3 or 4!! And I had to sew together the leather strip that went in the chain in my Chanel knockoff purse, too. Of course none of this was apparent when I showed up glammed for the L.A. Ballet.

What do people do who can't SEW even a bit?  I am grateful for my Girl Scout leader my mother, and my first attempts at handsewing - so I can sew a set of decent looking stiches AND hem my pants/jeans using the invisible hemming stitch.

Although, sometimes I have to admit that I am grateful for what I call - I admit it - "stupid rich people" for dumping things that only need minor repair on a seam.  I also stiched the inside seam of a trendy bag I had gotten in a thrift shop, which got me compliments all weekend.  And once in a thrift shop I got a genuine velvet/sequined Bill Blass dress with a tag from Saks 5th Ave. on it - because it was bottom-heavy, and the seam in the organza top needed a few stiches...

So have sewing needles, a threader, and thread of different COLORS around.  I like the little collections of thread in various colors you can get at discount stores.  That way I always have the right color, and that's so important to keep the repair your secret.  My grandmother used to tell me tales of the rich woman she worked for in NYC in the old days who had her silk Parisian undies darned and mended until there was nothing left of them!

Then, of course, there is what they used to call Bondex - you know, the cotton strips that adhere with the heat of an iron.  They come in all sorts of colors, too & that's also something to have around for a quick repair of a rip.  I have even used self-fusing facing material (available in white & black) to mend more delicate fabrics.

If you are wearing vintage - check your seams, especially around the armholes, and bring a tiny mending kit WITH YOU - as you never know when those old seams will decide to give up the ghost. I have had lovely vintage silk shirts go to pieces on me at fancy events & off to the ladies I went to sew it up. (Ditto narrow straps.)

I also think it helps to have done some needlework - embroidery, etc. - as then you will have a repertoire of stiches to use.  I have even DARNED fabrics in garments I really liked.

So brush up your handsewing.  It's easy to do in front of the TV - and who wants to PAY anyone good money to put up a HEM?  My thrifty heart shivers at the thought.






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