Saturday, April 30, 2011

Lesson 4: Shop For Free

"But it's staring at me..."

And it was. Hardcore.

Shoes stare. It's basic science. They look at you in a way that emphasizes the fact it was on your foot just moments ago, being a good little shoe, making your legs look long and fantastic, but now you're leaving...without it. How cruel, leaving it behind like that, unloved, without a home, like an abandoned puppy...poor thing. Well now I don't want to be a cruel person...

As you're well aware of, shopping on a nonexistent budget can prove to be quite hazardous. Personally, I fight the urge until I just can't take it anymore and then whoosh I'm off in a spending frenzy. I return home and instantly empty everything onto my bed, treating my style savvy audience (i.e. my cats) to the fashion show of the decade. I frantically rummage through my stockpile of new treasures, coordinating recent purchases with closet classics, desperately attempting to create as many outfit combinations as fast as possible with all the urgency of a Emergency Room television drama.

Nurse: "Is she going to make it, Doctor?"
Doctor: "Not unless she finds a top to go with that skirt."

(Enter Marlee.)
Me: "What about this one?"
Nurse 1: "It's too risky!"
Nurse 2: "It'll never work!"
Doctor: "It's the only chance she's got! For God's sake people give her some space!!"

(Patient puts on top.)
Patient: "This is fabulous."
Doctor: "It's a miracle!"
Patient: "How can I ever thank you?"
Me (slowly putting on sunglasses): "No need. Just doin' my job."

This continues until I'm completely exhausted and I leave everything in a heaping pile in the bedroom, promising myself to put it away later (later meaning sometime in the next 2 weeks). I then return to my usual daily tasks, the rush of my shiny new purchases slowly fading. Soon the guilt sets in, and I begin contemplating returning anything with a tag still on it, but the thought of going back to the store I just so gleefully left, handing back my purchases like a broken and beaten consumer makes my stomach turn. So I keep everything. Bad day.

I seem to have found a solution for this dilemma: Closet Swap Parties.

For those of you who have never been to or heard of one, closet swap parties are the equivalent of throwing a large quantity of raw meat to a pack of starving hyenas. They are chaotic, they are dangerous, and they are positively terrific.

Now I'm sure somewhere in the world there are nice proper versions of these parties, where well-mannered ladies sit in a circle and collectively "ooh" and "aah" over each individual item, passing it around and then politely excusing themselves to the restroom to try on a below-the-ankle sock, but this just isn't the case with any I've attended.

In my experience, they are basically an organized riot where everyone brings any clothes they no longer wear, throws them all in a huge pile, and then tears through said pile like a pack of ravenous beasts, taking what they want, discarding what they don't, and killing whoever is foolish enough to get in their way. There is no sneaking away to try anything on because there's simply no time for it. If you want that shirt, damnit you better prove it.

Simply put, a closet swap party is about as close to a guy's "women's locker-room fantasy" as you can get. There's usually some sort of fighting involved, and in most cases there's always something complicated enough to require assistance getting it on.

Men of the world, your welcome.

Having said that, all of this madness and margaritas (or tea and crumpets, depending on your circle of friends) has some serious advantages. First of all, everyone usually has different tastes, so one person's hand-me-down gag-inducing 60's dress is another's fantastic find. Different sizes are also accounted for, so a woman six months along with twins can find a mountain of riches in the woman-who-just-got-her-tubes-tied's useless maternity wear.

Nonetheless, there are rules. Well, only one actually. If two people want the same thing, a fair way of settling it needs to be established beforehand. One such  method of intervention is a try-on-off, which is where they each try on the desired article of clothing, model it accordingly, and then the group decides who gets it. For the fashionably self-conscious I guess an old fashioned game of ro-sham-bo (or bear-hunter-ninja, as we often play here in Montana) is in order. Perhaps you'd prefer a light-saber duel, a thumb wrestling contest, or a winner takes all game of flip cup. Anyway, decide ahead of time, otherwise it could get ugly.

Some advice if you're attending a closet swap party? Seriously try and clean out your closet. Don't take one or two items, there's no point. I read recently that the average women wears 20% of what she owns 80% of the time. So be honest, and really go through your wardrobe. As a general rule, anything you haven't worn in the last year is fair game. All those shirts you keep saying you'll wear but never do? Bring 'em! Seeing the look on someone's face as they absolutely fall in love with a piece of your clothing makes it immensely easier to let it go.

So for the budget friendly women of the world, I say consider throwing a closet swap party. My own version of shopping cabin fever set in weeks ago, but I held out for tonight. And the result? Five, count 'em five, pairs of jeans, 8 shirts, a scarf, and a jacket; all for free. There were even more categories I didn't choose from; shoes, jewelry, belts, purses. I got to come home, put on my usual spectacular fashion show, and then curl up on the couch next to my boyfriend, all without feeling one ounce of guilt. Great day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lesson 3: Spend It On A Memory

Whether or not I was wearing a bra was the least of her problems.

Side note: this post is probably meant for more mature readers. It's not vulgur by any means...just more...mature.

I awoke with a phone call.

"So I'll be over around noon, is that okay?"
"Red house on Howard, right?"
"Great, see you then!"

Boyfriend: "Who was that?"
Me: "No idea."

I went back to sleep.

I woke up around 11:30. Guess I'll find out whoever's coming over in about half an hour. I got up and tried to navigate my way to the kitchen for a glass of water. I had a pounding headache and was unbelievably thirsty-where the hell was the damn kitchen?

I wasn't in my house. I was in my boyfriend's house. And I was hungover. Ahhh crud.

I remember. The guy coming over was going to look at my furniture. I was moving and wouldn't need most of it, so I was looking to sell what I could. His name was Miles, and he was a friend of my mom's. I remember her telling me he was very shy and quiet, so I needed to keep my sense of humor in check. Mmm hmm....

I found my shoes at the door. Heels. No good. I slipped on a pair of my boyfriend's tennies. These'll have to do.

"I have to run home real quick I'm stealing your car! I'll call you!"
I sped home and as I pulled up I saw two gentlemen standing at my door. I got closer and the younger one extended his hand. "Hi, I'm Miles, this is my grandpa. Um...hi."

I don't blame him for being taken aback. My smeared makeup and ratty hair probably made it look like I had spent the night in a gutter. I had the words "Lake Erie" scrawled on my left arm in green permanent marker along with an artist's poor rendition of a giraffe wearing a helmet. I was wearing an oversized Led Zeppelin T-shirt, a pair of baseball shorts, and because of the size difference, what appeared to be clown shoes. I shook his hand and tried to unlock the door - with the wrong set of keys - no luck. I was locked out.

As I pounded on the door and rang the bell for one of my roommates to let us in, I noticed something on the ground. A cake. A cake shaped like a... Oh no... 

It all came back to me. We'd had a bachelorette party for the ages last night. I can't imagine what was waiting for us behind that door. Oh well, no holding back now.

I pointed to the cake on the ground.
"You want some cock cake?"
They stared at me.
"It's funfetti. It's delicious."
Nothing. Tough crowd.

The door opened and a very angry roommate shielded her eyes from the sunlight. She looked at me, looked at the men next to me, turned around and marched back to her room.

Now let me paint you a picture. The house was a disaster. Phallic shaped cakes in a variety of colors and creative frosting techniques covered the countertops. A game of, to put it cleanly, "pin the trouser snake on the beefcake" was hung on the wall and various gag gifts and lingerie were strewn about the floor. Where to start, where to start...

"Well this is the couch," I said, removing a bright pink feathered boa and dusting off an assortment of trouser snakes that had never made it to their designated area. "And this," I said with a sigh, is the television.

Now don't judge me, but as a gag gift we had gone out and searched for what appeared to be the corniest porn movie ever made. We found one clearly made in the 80's, the men sporting fabulous mullets and wearing what looked like wrestling leotards. The cover was hilarious, the star of the movie attempting to look as macho as possible while holding a beachball (why?), his long permed locks flowing in what I'm sure was an artificial breeze. We never actually watched it of course, but nonetheless there it was, in the DVD player, the main menu playing on a constant loop.

"As you can see," I said, "It's in peak working condition."
"Uh huh, " said the grandpa.

My roommate stormed down the stairs and angrily shouted, "I'm going to Taco Bell, what do you want?!"
"I dunno, tacos."

"...and this way to the laundry room..."

Not quite. Our path was blocked by a lifesize reversible blow-up doll. I picked up "Trixie" and continued up the stairs. I showed them the washer and dryer, making sure to point out that they were particularly useful for washing dirty, dirty clothes, and were exceptional at stain removal. Blank stares. Oh come on, that was funny!

I showed them a dresser and a couple of end tables. They nodded in approval. We had agreed on $150 for all of it, and the Grandpa handed me two $100 bills. "Wait here a second," I said. "I'll get some change."

"No no no!" He stammered. "Just keep it. We'll be back later to pick everything up. Miles has your phone number?"
"Great, thanks for showing us everything. He'll call you. Haveaniceday."

If I didn't know any better I'd have thought they were in a hurry to leave. They scurried out the door just as my roommate was returning from her fast food run. We planted ourselves in the living room and ate our breakfast in that grueling hangover silence. After a few minutes she looked up and asked, "Were there people here this morning?"

The phone rang. It was my mom.

"Soo...I just got a call from Miles..."
"He said I have a very interesting daughter."
"Please tell me you were wearing a bra..."
"Mom trust me, the bra is the least of your worries."

Now despite my mother's embarrassment along with any inevitable consequences that come with throwing an "approved by me" bachelorette party (what is a ski-boot doing in the freezer?) this is one of my favorite memories. I budgeted for months for this party and spent all I had saved for it, not a penny less. And I it was soooo worth it. 

Lesson learned? Material items may provide that short term rush, but spending the money on an experience is everlasting. If you're going to spend the money, spend it on something you'll be able to take with you for the rest of your life. I got more enjoyment from that night (and the morning after) than I ever could from any shopping spree or fancy dinner out. And someday when I'm 85, I'm sure the memory of funfetti cock cake will still bring a smile to my face.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lesson 2: Pricetags Are Overrated

I wanted to rip her little blonde head off.

There I was, off in my own little homicidal daydream. If I were in a movie, I would've done it in slow motion with epic music playing loudly in the background. I'd have left the store greeted by a parade of people cheering, chanting, and throwing high-fives. They'd lift me onto their shoulders and carry me into the sunset; a hero for all who have ever been openly invalidated.

Yes. That is how it should have happened. It would have been fantastic.

But it didn't. Let me explain.

My boyfriend, you see, has a thing for watches. If we were playing "desert island" he might even include one on the list of his top five essentials. He particularly likes the ones with the clear faces, so you can see all the working parts in motion. I don't wear watches, personally. I don't like the idea of something tick-tocking scornfully as I waste my entire day playing computer solitaire. Anyway...

One day, while spending the day window shopping, we passed a jewelry store with watches on display, so we popped in to take a look. One step through the doors and I could see the faces light up of the two women behind the counter responsible for greeting us. One of them came over (the blonde) asked how we were doing, and if she could help us find anything.

"No, thank you," we replied. "We're just looking."

"Well let me know if you need anything! Oh and the bridal section is right over here."

Oooooh, sneaky-sneaky.
We continued to gaze at the different timepieces, my boyfriend oohing and ahhing over various makes and models. Behind me, I heard the sound of heels digging into dense carpet.

"Have you ever been in before?"
"Um, no. We were just walking by."
"Oh well then you haven't seen our engagement rings!"
"Well no I haven't, but really-
"Here let me show you!"
"No really I'm fine we're just-
"What kind of mount do you prefer?"
"Well I'm not really sure what a mount-
"What kind of cut do you prefer?"
"Um, I don't know I've never-
"A lot of people like the princess cut, like this one here."

Good God woman! I finally joined her at the opposite counter. I didn't want to, but I figured hey, what's the harm? I can't buy anything, so I might as well make her do some work if she was going to be so pushy.

I also want to point out that this puts Chris (my boyfriend) in a difficult position. We've been dating roughly 3 1/2 years, have discussed kids, marriage and the whole kit-n-caboodle, so what is he supposed to say? "Leave us alone, please. I'm positively not interested in any kind of future committment with my girlfriend." It's a complicated situation. He shrugged and watched me slowly walk over to the dark side.

She proceeded to show me every kind of sparkly circular band she could dig up. And since she was asking my opinion, I was being honest.

"What about this?" she asked, taking one out of the dark blue velvet box it rested in.
"Too big."
"Or this?"
"Too big."
"Too big."
"The diamond is too big?"
"Yes. All of it is too big. I'd rather have something very small."

She showed me another, and another, and another. Too big, too big, too big. Her frustration was becoming apparent.
"Well what kind of ring do you envision for youself, then?"
"Something very simple," I replied, wistfully. "A simple band, no detail whatsoever, and a single, tiny stone on top. That's all. It doesn't even have to be a diamond, really."

She looked perplexed. "Well I guess it's more sentimental that way..."

It was a kind of backhanded compliment, and I knew it. But it's completely true. I don't want anything fancy or extravagant because I like the idea of a ring symbolizing the love two people share for each other, not the amount of their income. I'd also rather Chris pick it out so that the sight of it on my hand reminds me of him. Yes, call me a bit odd, but I find it incredibly romantic. Three months wages? I couldn't care less! Give me something that is durable and will last long into our old age. Something that will survive toddlers, teenagers, cancer, and unstable porch swings. If that happens to be a petrified watermelon flavored ring pop bought at a garage sale, then so be it.

Finally, she showed me a ring in a different case.

"Now, what about this?"
"Too big."
"Well, " she scolded, "that's the smallest diamond we carry. If you want smaller you are going to have to special order it."

She abruptly locked the display case, turned and joined the other woman behind the back counter. I was dumbfounded. I hadn't even wanted to look at rings in the first place! Taken aback, I clumsily started back to join my boyfriend when something caught my eye: earrings. Stud earrings. Tiny stud earrings. I felt triumphant.

"Like this!" I shouted. "This here! If I could just put one of these on top of a plain band it would be perfect!"

Chris turned and joined me at the counter. The blonde woman rushed over.

"What, now?"

I pointed at the flat display of small diamond earrings ranging in a variety of sizes.

"That one, there, at the very, very bottom."

She pulled it out and pointed to one in the middle of the display.

"No, below that."
"This size?"
"No the one on the very bottom. The smallest size."

She moved her finger down the list until she arrived at what could have possibly been a microscopic piece of glitter.

"Yes," I said, victorious. "It's perfect."
She looked up and her eyes met mine. She tilted her head to the side and then, coldly, from her thin bird-like lips came:


She rolled her eyes and put the display back. I looked at Chris just in time to see his shoulders drop. This woman, in one word, had shattered the self worth of the man I love. She had knowlingly confirmed the false belief held by many: if a lady says she wants a modest wedding ring, she's lying.

She's settling.

I absolutely wasn't settling, but it was too late. Chris looked all but broken. As I said earlier, I wanted to rip her little blonde head off.

We left the store reminded of a predicament familiar to anyone living below the poverty line. Do I really desire a small, dainty ring with minimal embellishments or am I just attempting to spare the feelings of my financially strained future husband?

My answer? I honestly don't even need a ring. I'm a 26 year old broke college student hopelessly in love with a baseball coach. As long as he agrees to spend the rest of his life with me, I am perfectly happy. Someday, when one of us inevitably widows the other, I highly doubt the amount of money spent on anything will be a point of interest in the eulogy.

So like I said, pricetags are completely overrated.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Holiday Tip #1: Invite The Ones That Matter

Oh Martha Stewart, arrogantly staring at me while seated in a perfectly themed dining room, your hair and table flawlessly set. I've come to terms with the fact that my home will never look like yours. I have neither the panache nor the patience to create such an oasis of "holidayness." And even if I did, and pictures were taken for Good Housekeeping, the inevitable dog with it's front paws on the counter would have to be photo-shopped out.

I can, however, win at one aspect of the game. My family gatherings are more fun. That's right, I just issued a direct challenge to Martha Stewart. I bet my dinner parties are more fun than yours, Martha.

I understand this is a lofty challenge for a financially struggling college student to extend to the domestic diva of the universe. My recipes are less extravagant (fruit salad), my decorations are all but nonexistent (paper plates), and the seating is, shall we say, extremely sparse. That crooked futon in the corner? Go for it. Just know it broke a few months ago during an intense game of "drink the beer and jump on the futon", and I "fixed" it ten minutes before you came over, so it could technically collapse at any second. Consider yourself warned.

The reason for my confidence in the entertainment value of these shindigs is that I have something up my sleeve that Martha does not: a built in sacrificial lamb. Granted my brother now lives 8 hours away, but he is still present at most family occasions.

I'll give you an example.

A few years ago, my brother, his wife, my mom, my boyfriend, and about 5 of my roommates/friends all gathered in our "cozy" duplex for Thanksgiving dinner. It was quite a mismatched group; my family having never met my friends and some of my friends having never even met each other. Needless to say, in a room filled with unfamiliarity, there was some noticeable tension.

Now before we go too much further it is absolutely vital you know this next bit of information: my favorite dish at Thanksgiving (or any holiday for that matter), is the yams. My mom makes them loaded with brown sugar and butter and covered with ooey gooey roasted marshmallows. They are a dieter's catastrophe waiting to happen, but once or twice every year I throw caution to the wind and eat them for the main course and desert. And I never, ever regret it.

So on this day, as we were filling up our plates, one of my friends looked at the yams and inquired what was on the top. I told her, "Marshmallows. Try them. Thank me later."

"Oh!" she replied. "I didn't know what they were! They look so soft and round like little...."


Silence. My brother waited for her reply. It was a reasonable question.

"Actually I was going to say 'clouds', " she said. "But those work too I guess."

"Clouds are good. Boobs are better. Can you pass the salt? This turkey looks delicious."

This, ladies and gents, is my brother at his finest. A small-time comedian, he has an innate ability to transform any marginally uncomfortable situation into his gloriously awkward masterpiece. His natural talent for seeking out the perfect moment to insert an inappropriate comment is criticized by some, but deeply appreciated by others. I am on the side of appreciation.

I feel incredibly fortunate for my brother's sense of humor. Not the spotlight stealer or offensive clown that some may liken him to, he is one of the most caring, self-sacrificing people I know. While on the surface these comments may seem offensive, they're actually the nicest thing a person can do at a family gathering.

Think about it. How awkward are these things? Who isn't self-conscious? How many of us have found ourselves deep in thought, just praying for time to move at a more merciful pace? Avoid politics, avoid religion. Laugh at jokes, agree with Grandma. Check, check, check and check.

My brother takes it upon himself to relieve this unspoken mind-numbing tension. Who is going to remember the gravy you spilled in your lap when earlier someone compared marshmallows to the female bosom? The stress of the occasion is taken out, and people can open up and enjoy themselves.

Personally, I find it even more enjoyable when done in extremely formal occasions. His brilliant deadpan comments make my heart leap with laughter every time. There is truly nothing quite like studying the look on someone's face as they attempt to explain the secret to their infamous potato casserole when they're clearly still thinking of the comment he made 20 minutes ago about "effin' a kiwi".

So my penniless companions, if I have learned anything about entertaining (and I haven't learned much), I say make the guest list the utmost priority. I'm sure Martha throws some amazing dinner parties, but given the choice, I would rather her attend one of mine instead of the other way around. Yes her unblemished silverware would be stunning and her full-course menu delectable, but the look on her face when my brother breaks the ice with his first improper remark? Absolutely priceless.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Textbooks 101

I'm going to confess a slight secret here: I kind of don't mind shopping for textbooks.

Back in the day, when I was a young naive undergraduate, only knee-high to a grasshopper, I learned a cold hard truth: the cost of school will hurt, but the cost of textbooks will downright rip your heart out.

Now buying any book before you read it poses a risk, but textbooks are different. Regular books take you out for a nice dinner and occasionally offer to pick up the tab; textbooks take you to Taco Bell, order everything on the menu, make you pay and then puke in your Honda.

Ah but two bachelor degrees later and I have returned all the wiser. I'm now the ex-girlfriend who took off her glasses, let her hair down, and suddenly became hot. Now that I know how to work the system I have the pick of any textbook I want, and oh how I relish the power.

Actually, here: I'll make a list

Textbook Tips:

1.) Never buy books from the bookstore.
The price markups are ridiculous, and they buy them back at the end of the semester at a fraction of the retail price, if they even buy them back at all. Save yourself the grief and buy them online or from your inner circle of financially struggling classmates. There are two advantages to this: 1.) You get your books at an incredibly cheaper rate, and 2.) You may even be able to sell them back to someone else at the end of the semester for a similar rate, resulting in a more reasonable net loss (or even gain).

There are even places you can rent textbooks, but I wouldn't suggest it. It rely's on the fact that you have to return the books through the mail, in equal condition as when they were purchased. Semesters are packed with hectic, stressful days, and (parents avert your eyes) maybe even a kegger or two. Just being realistic.

Try some online sites like:

2.) Research the subject matter and newest editions.
Example: your professor says you need the newest edition of American History 101. No, you don't. It's history. It doesn't change. Unless the entire class will be based on the last chapter, it's not worth it. The same goes for Chemistry, Anatomy, Biology, things of that sort. The upper leg bone was called the Femur last year, it's called the Femur this year, and going out on a limb here, it's still going to be called the Femur next year.

Besides, many new editions are exactly the same as old editions, they've just switched the chapters around (it's true!). Buy the edition 1 or 2 years older. For many of my classes the newest edition of a textbook costs an average of $150.00. The used last year's edition? Under $10.00. And sometimes even less.

3.) Determine what is required and what is recommended.
You know what kind of learner you are. If you are someone who needs all the study material you can handle, then by all means, go for it. But materials like workbooks or studyguides are rarely actually used for the class. Ask students who have taken the class before you. How much did they use their workbook? Do they still have their workbook? If they do, would they be willing to part with it (you know where I'm going here)?

Also, many textbooks have FREE partner sites that come with them. You may have to do some digging in the front cover, but you can often find instructions (go the the publisher's site for a good start). These come with the majority of science and math books, and they're fantastic. No need to buy a workbook here, unless homework will be assigned directly from its pages. Use the sites, it's what they're there for.

4.) Wait to buy.
Yes this one is a bit tricky, but hear me out. For many of my classes, I actually ended up only using some of the textbooks I bought. Professors will often ask you to read the chapter to prepare for class, but the test will only cover the class notes. For most classes the strategy is show up, pay attention, take good notes. Reading the chapter can actually confuse you more, bombarding you with extra information you won't be tested on.

Wait untill after the first day or week of class. If it turns out you absolutely need the textbook on the first day of class, talk to the professor. They usually have extras they are willing to loan out as yours is "in the mail". Or better yet ask a classmate if you can meet to study. Besides, it'll do you good to find a study group in a class that assigns homework on the first day.

Exception: Online classes. In this case it might be smarter to have your books ahead of time. If you live in a different state it may be difficult to borrow someone elses until yours are within reach.

*Use your discretion though. Showing up to Physics or Organic Chemistry sans textbook is never a good idea. Save this tip for Intro to Folklore or something where you won't have to look up an actual diagram or formula.
5.) Sell, sell, sell!
Make some money when you're done! If it's a book you're never going to use again (which may not always be the case for graduate students, especially) sell it! Go the the same sites where you bought the book from, they will usually buy the book back. I have the most luck on myself, where I can set the price of what I'm selling. Beware though, people expect the book to be shipped in a reasonable amount of time, just like you would. So be honest about the condition (missing pages 40-46? back cover chewed off by your pet ferret?), and ship ASAP.

Other options, like E-books (Electronic Textbooks) may be useful. The site lists electronic textbooks to many classes. You just have to subscribe (usually free) for a certain amount of time; usually the length of a semester.

Downloading books to your Kindle, Nook, Ipod, etc. may also be an option. The point is, do your research.

So why do I kind of like buying textbooks? Mostly the thrill of the hunt, but when it's combined with the fact that when I find a textbook for $10.00 that's worth $150.00? I can sell it for profit at the end of the semester. And nothing is quite like the icing on the cake of an extra $140.00 in your pocket on the last day of finals.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lesson 1: Stand Your Ground!

I have that same habit I'm sure a lot of you have. The one where you wander around the kitchen like a lost soul, opening and reopening the refridgerator door praying for something delicious to magically materialize in the pantry. The sad truth is this never happens, as I'm sure you are all aware.

So for me, leftover porkchops, stale hotdog buns and some deli cheese sounded like something I could work with. Sliced pork sandwiches it is.

My roommate offered to pay for whatever else I needed, which I decided was an onion and a red and green bell pepper. I figured I could saute the onions and peppers for a bit, then layer it all in the hotdog buns along with some sliced porkchops and cheese. Throw it under the broiler and hey, I've got something semi-healthy that both my roommate and boyfriend will eat.

I picked up what I needed at Albertsons, along with some special requests for my roommate, since he was paying. At the checkout counter I was ready for my total...and it was wrong. I quietly said to the girl behind the counter, "I'm sorry, but the price on the red bell pepper is wrong. It should be $1.98, not $2.49."

She looked at me with a condescending "I'm too pretty to be a checkout girl and I know it" look and asked, "Are you sure?"

"Yes I'm sure."

"Well I'm going to have to go check. And then I'll have to void it off, and then a manager is going to have to come and override..." Her voice trailed off and was replaced by the loud smacking of her gum.

I knew what she was trying to do. She was trying to make me feel guilty for making all the nice people wait in line while someone fixed my $0.51 dilemma. And I'm not going to lie, it was working. I could sense the tension of squirming people behind me, all of them doubting their earlier decision to get behind the girl with five items in her grocery basket. All of them duped by the possibility of a swift checkout. They seemed annoyed and angry, so I followed the cardinal rule of anyone taking up time at the cash register: I didn't make eye contact.

"Oh that's okay," I said. "I'll wait." Then I threw in a sweet smile just for the fun of it.

She left to check the correct price. People behind me started doing the "checkout dance" as I call it, when they try to calculate if switching to another line would save them more time than waiting in this one. Some stayed, some took the risk and line jumped.

She returned. "It was $1.98" she said sternly. She took a deap breath, "But now I'm going to have to get a manager to override this price differential. I don't know where she is right now."

Should've line jumped.

I stared blankly. She stared back. A real mexican standoff in the middle of Albertsons. "I'll wait," I said. She picked up the phone and called for the manager over the loudspeaker.

Right now I'm spending an average of $434.74 on groceries for both me and my boyfriend. Per month.  Damn right I'll wait.

Miss Manager came over, punched some buttons in the screen and reduced the price of the pepper to $0.00. The clerk stammered, and the manager replied that if the price of an item is wrong, the customer gets it for free.

Score. Free red pepper.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Well it's day one, so I think it's best to start off with some introductions.

For the sake of anonymity (and because I can) you can call me Marlee. I'm a college student, pursuing my Master's in Counseling, as well as finishing my Bachelor's in Nutrition. I take at least 12 credits or more a semester, as well as work 40 hours a week.

I live with my boyfriend, who's an assistant baseball coach with a monthly income of roughly $1,000 (can anyone say, sugardaddy?) and a roommate. I own 4 cats thanks to a stint of volunteering at the local animal shelter where I couldn't handle the thought of them being euthanized, so they ended up coming home with me permanently. Needless to say I lasted there for about a month.

My monthly bills (groceries, utilities, gas, etc) come to about $825. My monthly income? About $1,200. Any extra gets saved for school (which is an average of $5,000 per semester, not including textbooks).

And I'm broke.

Beyond broke, really. I budget my income to the exact dollar, and I have to say; it's depressing. Since increasing my income is not really an option (graduate students don't qualify for grants, so it's student loans, scholarships, or nothing at this point), I have decided I have no choice but to decrease the amount of money I spend each month. And before you even think it, just know that Mommy and Daddy have never lent me a cent. Even the idea of asking makes my blood curdle.

So some goals of mine?

#1:Finish School
I have quite a few semesters left to finish, and I'm done taking out student loans. I'm studying to be a nutritional counselor for crying out loud, and last time I checked nutritional counselors didn't make the amount of money that allows them to pay back student loans equivalent to those doctor's and lawyers owe.

I need to find a way to pay for textbooks, juggle class, labs, work, and (hopefully) play without resorting to signing my life away to yet another loan. No interest while you're in school? Fantastic! And when I'm done?  Ha! Lets just say banks salivate at the sight of my graduation date.

#2: Eat
As I said, I am also a nutrition major, working on becoming a registered dietitian. Therefore, the classic "Just cut coupons!" line just isn't going to cut it. I know I can probably wrangle up a crateful of ramen noodles at $0.14 /crate, but the fact is I'm not willing to eat like that.

So you guessed it, I want to eat real food, on a budget. I want fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, healthy dairy, lean meats and whole grains...all of it. Yes I'm broke, but someday when I'm inevitably homeless and doing magic tricks on the street corner, someone is going to say to me, "Well at least you've got your health," and I want to be able to agree with them.

#3: Shop

Oh yes, we are going for full-on delusional here. I mean come on, I'm 26, a girl, and a sucker for a great pair of sky-high heels.I don't need designer, just something that doesn't look like I'm still wearing hand-me-downs from some long lost Aunt.

For example, two weeks ago I found the cutest little bird necklace online at Forever21 for $1.50. That's right, $1.50. Free shipping. That's what I'm talkin' about!

#4: Save
I know this should probably be higher on the list, so we'll pretend this list isn't yet prioritized (eating and shopping at a higher priority than saving? Nah....). But the fact is, someday my car ('93 Plymouth Duster, with partially working parts), is going to go to the special farm where Dodsons and Gremlins race through open fields, and I'm going to need some other form of transportation. Not to mention all those other things like health insurance, owning a home one day, or hell maybe I want to try sushi before I die.

Anyway, I need to save a little something every month, and I've got to figure out a way to do it.

So this will be my diary. My crude attempt  to find some ways to save money in my current situation.

Comments are appreciated!

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