Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Living Frugally

I think I've mentioned that I'm currently FUNemployed*.  It has a HUGE effect on what I can do here because I need my money to buy food, not grommets and bias tape.  I've set rules for myself that were somewhat unconscious until I wrote this post.  So here they are. 

1.) No buying things.  Unless I find a fabric in the remnant pile (50% off retail price!) and I really need it for a specific project (i.e. I bought some terry cloth for some commissioned wetjet pads).  Exceptions made for notions.  I can fudge what kind of fabric I'm using, but if I've explored every other option (stashed zipper in the correct length, buttons, etc) and I need velcro, then I need velcro.

2.) Check the thrift/seconds stores first if I do need to buy something and I keep my eyes open at garage sales.  This worked better when I lived with my parents and could go to Scrap ($0.10 zippers!) and The Knitt'n Kitten ($0.50 knitting needles!) or Wise Buys ($3 iron! $0.25 yarn!) and a couple antique stores in college.  Heck, my mom found my amazing serger at a garage sale around home (thanks, Mom!).  Here, it's much rarer to find someone who has donated every zipper they owned to charity.  The section of fabric lengths that usually sit next the hanging linens at Goodwill is much smaller.  The finds are fewer and farther between.  I've enjoyed thrifting for over 10 years now and I have some advice on finding things on the cheap.
a.) Every thrift place has at least one specialty.  Some always have a great selection of picture frames and furniture but hardly any craft things.  Some have the best selection of shorts, but very few housewares.  Check out every thrift store in your area and try to categorize them (probably will take a few visits).  This way, when you're in a bind and you really need X, you can know what place is likeliest to have it.

b.) Flat sheets are really just giant lengths of fabric (if you can find ones that aren't threadbare).  Instead of buying new muslin, make mockups out of old sheets.  We recently got a couch off craigslist so I'm on the look out for a set of king non-threadbare sheets or curtains to use in a color that doesn't disgust me. Curtains are good when you need much thicker or much thinner fabric. Here's a guide to sheet yardage I got here.
  • Crib Flat Sheet: 42″72″. This equals two yards of 42″-wide fabric.
  • Twin Flat Sheet: 66″x96″. This equals a smidge over two and two-third yards of 66″-wide fabric.
  • Twin Extra Long Flat Sheet: 66″x102″. This equals a little over two and three-quarter yards of 66″-wide fabric.
  • Full or Double Flat Sheet: 81″x96″. This equals, lengthwise, a smidge over two and two-third yards of 81″ fabric. The fabric is wide enough, however, that you can turn it the other way if the print works sideways. Widthwise, the fabric equals 2.25 yards of 96″-wide fabric.
  • Queen Flat Sheet: 90″x102″. This equals a little over two and three-quarter yards of 90″-wide fabric. Used sideways, widthwise, the fabric equals 2.5 yards of 102″-wide fabric.
  • King Flat Sheet: 108″x102″. This fabric is longest when turned sideways. Widthwise, the fabric equals three yards of 102″-wide fabric. Used lengthwise, the fabric equals a little over two and three-quarter yards of 108″-wide fabric.
  • California King Flat Sheet: 102″x110″. This equals a smidge over three yards of 102″-wide fabric. Widthwise, the fabric equals a little over two and three-quarter yards of 110″-wide fabric.
c.) Don't buy it unless I have a project in mind.  This applies to nearly ANYTHING found at a good deal, anywhere.  Now, there are some things particular to what I do that maybe I can/should stock pile (for months I was finding xacto knife blades at Tuesday Morning and I stocked up because I went through them like candy as a design major) but that doesn't mean I buy everything that interests you if it's on sale.  I tend to see things that only cost $1 as not being that big of a deal to buy... since I recognize that in myself, I don't let myself buy (hardly) anything from the dollar bins at the front of Target and in the checkout aisle of Joann's (hmm, I'm guessing they realized other people think like me) and thus don't buy a lot of super cheap things I super didn't need. 

d.) Go through your own stash.  Chances are, you probably have something that will work.  I happen to have a stash of fabric right now so I don't really need to buy any. I've seen some advice for those who end up with overflowing stashes of yarn, scrapbooking, sewing supplies, and clothes: if you haven't used it in a year, toss it.  You probably won't use it.  I feel like this applies to the hardcore crafters who consistently use their stashes.  Most people I know only sew a couple times a year or knit/crochet a few scarves, but they shouldn't get rid of all their needles and stuff.  I think more useful advice for the occasional crafter who finds that life takes up more of their time than crafting is to have a predefined storage space for your crafts and then stick to it.  Maybe it's a wardrobe, a set of shelves, a closet, or even a small room with cabinets, whatever is appropriate to your craft/house-size/average stash/frequency of crafting.  If your stuff doesn't fit, then you have a problem.  The answer is not another set of shelves, it's going through what you have and slimming down your craft diet.

e.) You get what you pay for.  I just bought some sheets and pillowcases at a thrift store.  It cost less than $5.  If I had bought them new, the sheets alone would have cost around $50.  Even at a closeouts/seconds store, it still would have been in the neighborhood of $30.  My thrift store sheets don't match each other and one has a hole I patched, but I'm ok with that.  The amount I saved more than makes up for that small detail at this point in my life. 

f.) Lower your expectations.  While it's not incredibly rare to find things new in box, don't count on it.  Things will generally be used, it's more a question of how used/damaged are they.  Also, raise your expectations: just because it's cheap doesn't mean it's what you want/need.  Factor in how much it might cost to repair the item in the sale price.

3.)  Crafts must have a purpose (especially if I want to spend money on it.)  I tend to give practical gifts and make practical things.  There are some things that should not be knit (I'm looking at you, human hair doily).  I think amigurumi is adorable and I really want to make all of these, but I'm not going to buy all the colors of yarn I need to do so.  If I happen to already own some Tardis blue yarn, found a free pattern, and have several hours, I might make a dishcloth of a Tardis that has no practical purpose- but it's outweighed by the alternasponges and other practical cleaning supplies I needed and made.

4.) Use coupons.  If you know you're going to be working on a project and you know everything you need, start buying your supplies a month or two before you need them and make use of every 40% coupon you can find.  Joann's, Michael's, Craft Warehouse, Fabric Depot, whatever is in your area or stocks what you need probably has coupons that you can get in the newspaper or pick up in-store (I do the latter as we don't get a paper).  However, if you don't have a project in mind, don't wait to use them for something "more expensive." I've wasted so many coupons that way.  Pay attention to what types of things have regular sales.  I know that Joann's has a sale at least once a year where patterns are $1-$3 (next week in fact!).  The notions wall is often 50% off.  Their fabric rotates what type is on sale for 40%-50% off about every week.  So, if you can, just wait a week and check the ads. 

*technically, I have a very short term contract job at the moment and it has prevented me from making anything for today's post.  Thus no pretty pictures. 

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