Archive for ‘Shopping’

13/08/2013

A Poor Girls Guide to buying Electronics.

Everyone loves shiny new electronics. Opening the packaging on a brand new laptop, peeling off the screen protector on a new phone, that first booting up moment when you just want to jump around from joy. The problem is that electronics are expensive. Terrifyingly so sometimes, so for the girl on a budget new electronics, even if they’re desperately needed, are often nothing more than a pipe-dream. (I was lucky enough to receive a loan of enough money to cover the cost of a brand new laptop last January; if that hadn’t happened I’d probably still be struggling along with a half-knackered netbook, which could barely boot-up, much less run any of my graphics programs. As of last month I have half of that money paid back.)

So for the girl on a budget, how can you replace that netbook that smells distressingly of ozone? Or that cellphone with the cracked screen?

1: Save.

Saving is not always easy, but sometimes it’s a necessity. When I bought my current laptop, the one I’m typing this on in-fact, I had saved up a little over 1/3rd of the cost myself. It had taken me over 6 months to do so. Okay, I still had to accept a loan from my Partner in Crime to cover the last 2/3rds; but thanks to that period of saving I’d already gotten used to giving up the money needed to repay her each month. That’s the key, making saving a habit. Once it’s a habit, it becomes easier to maintain, even if it does mean less in the way of day-to-day fun-stuff.

2: Sales.

Watch the websites of your preferred electronics stores like a hawk. Most of those stores will have something on special each week, or month. So with patience you can pick up what you want at a hefty price reduction. I once picked up a netbook which had been almost 400 Euro the week before, for just over 210 Euro. It wasn’t an end of line, or any other special type of sale. It just happened to be on special that week, and had been massively reduced. Of course I’d been sitting on that money for a few months at that stage, so patience and self-control are key to this working.

3: End of Line.

Almost every year, or at most every second year, most electronics companies will release a new version of each of their various lines. This is great even if you can’t afford those prices, because the stores have to get rid of last years line, fast, if they’re to have any hope of shifting those newer up-to-date models. (Never mind that sometimes the only difference is a slightly different casing.) Often this means that to get shot of those last few examples of last years model the stores will have end of line sales where the sales price is often just barely over cost-price. Meaning huge savings can be made if, as usual, you can be patient enough to wait, and quick enough to get in there first.

4: Display Models.

I love Hewlett Packard’s Ipaq line. I’ve owned two of them, and I quite simply think that they’re the bees knees, the rats arse, the…they’re really great. My last one gave me four years of sterling work, being carried from one end of Ireland to the other as an aid to my writing, an ebook reader, and even an emergency MP3 player on more than one occasion. It was also bought as an ex-display model. Bought in the box off a shelf it would have set me back 300 Euro, but as an ex-display model I got it for just over 100. It was undamaged, unmarked, and needed only a replacement battery (8 Euro plus 3 postage and packaging at the time) to make it absolutely perfect. This sort of find needs a lot of luck, as well as patience. But are well worth looking out for.

5: Accept Charity/gifts.

I have a house rule, “No unwanted computer goes without a home.” Simply this means that if someone offers me an old PC, tablet, laptop, or mobile phone I will always accept.

Why?

Because until my current laptop, all of my performance computers had been built from the best parts of older machines. My current ebook reader, is a gratefully accepted donation of an old Pandigital 7″ tablet which had been rooted; which may be reaching the end of it’s serviceable lifespan, but still gives me hours of joy every single week. I haven’t had a “new” cellphone in almost a decade. My friends know that if there’s an old mobile that they’re replacing, well Amanda will find it a loving home.

Charity is not a bad thing. Especially if it means that an old machine doesn’t wind up rotting in a landfill, or lying gathering dust in some forgotten corner of a home. And really especially, (I know, bad grammar.) If someone, if you, might find great use, and greater joy in using it until it finally just has to be taken behind the woodshed for a close encounter with a deer-slug to the processor. Of course you should do the same to with anything that may be useful to someone else, sharing is caring.

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11/06/2013

HMV are rising from the grave. So they’ll now be named HZV?

A few months ago I posted about my sorrow at the passing of HMV. Well, it was with immense joy that I read yesterday morning of the return of HMV to my local shopping center, in about 6 weeks. This is huge news, immense news. I to be perfectly honest punched the air, and may have uttered the words “Fuck Yeah!” There will be only four stores opening to begin with. Three in the Dublin area, and one in Limerick. Fair enough I suppose. HMV had become something of a lumbering giant before its fall, so it only makes sense that its new owners would downsize in a huge way.

So in celebration here are my Top 5 reasons for immense joy at the return of HMV.

5. I’ll actually be able to find DVDs. Seriously, since HMV folded, Golden Discs has also downsized also. That leaves people like myself who live on, as my Miss would probably put it, the clippings of tin, with Xtravision, thrift stores, or a 90 minute round-trip in to the city if we want to add a DVD to our collections. That would be alright except that with Xtravision and thrift stores you’re talking about pre-owned/pre-viewed DVDs if you want anything for less than a tenner, with the very real possibility of a DVD that has been used at some point to spread jam on bread.

No really, I once bought a secondhand DVD in an Xtravision that had strawberry seeds stuck to it. Though in fairness they did exhange it for a different copy.

So really that just leaves a trip to town, with the costs involved with that, and either Golden Discs in the Jervis Shopping Center (Small selection, generally overpriced with a small chance of finding something interesting at an affordable price), or Tower Records (Good selection, but zero chance of an affordable price.)

Hurray for HMV!

4. Another source of secondhand Xbox 360 games. HMV is where I got my treasured copy of Bayonetta. It’s also where I had hoped to find many other games. Then it closed, leaving me with Gamestop. *Sigh* Gamestop…

Look Gamestop, we know you now have essentially a monopoly on the secondhand game market. There are a handful of plucky little shops which also sell used games, but really we all know that right now you’re the Big Kahuna. The problem is we know, you know it too. But that doesn’t make it right for you to charge 1 Euro less for a secondhand copy of Borderlands 2. ONE FUCKING EURO! Yes, I really did see this. Now, I’d have said something if was a copy of the collectors edition, with all the DLCs included. But nope, this was a secondhand copy, of vanilla B2.

So yes, competition is welcomed. And hopefully the new owners of HMV will realise that they have a chance to not only stick up for the consumer, but also twist the knife a little. (The whole Xbox One situation, is a completely different rant where I actually come down on the side of Gamestop…yes it does make me feel dirty. And not in a fun way.)

3. Shopping will be enjoyable again. My shopping center is Liffey Valley. It’s a huge, airy, air-conditioned slice of retail heaven. But when HMV closed I suddenly realised just how much of my time in Liffey Valley used to be spent flicking through DVDs, and games. I miss that, I miss walking in with nothing, and walking out with many, many movies.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like a mooch through New Look, H&M, Easons, and Dunnes as much as the next girl. But I miss buying movies, heading home, and spending a glorious evening on the couch with my puppies, and my Miss watching Liam Neeson punch the world in the face.

Shopping just hasn’t been the same.

2. Competition lowers prices. Now I’m a realist here, I never expect HMV to be as cheap as it used to be. It used to make a loss, because they were too cheap. But since they folded Golden Discs and Tower Records have basically been without competition, and frankly most of the people who go to one of those, won’t be the same people who go to the other. But EVERYONE used to go to HMV, the problem was that not everyone bought there.

I never understood that. They would after all have at least a hundred titles available on special every single week. Outside of that even their new titles were set at roughly the same prices as anyone else, maybe a little lower.

You know what the problem with HMV was? It wasn’t movie streaming, or movie piracy, there are plenty of people like me who like to own the DVD in the case, on a shelf. It wasn’t the t-shirts, or headphones, though frankly most modern headphone sets are massively overpriced penis-extensions. No I think the problem with HMV was that you would walk in, and not be able to move in the movie sections. While in the music sections…ghost town, tumble weeds, a lonesome coyote howling at the wind. The music sections that took up roughly half of each store.

The music audience has moved on. Hell even I have an Amazon account for buying my music, I refuse to give Apple the steam off my piss much less the sight of my cash. People, more often than not I suspect, are over the whole owning a CD. Everyone has am MP3 player of some kind. Everyone has a PC or laptop. I mean I can tell you the last time I bought a CD, it was 10 years ago Transmission by Violent Delight, I bought it the day it was released.

Since then I’ve bought movies in physical form, and when legal downloading of music appeared on the scene I started doing that. I honestly can’t see myself ever buying a CD again, and I doubt I am alone.

So anyway, yeah the number 2 reason I am violently delighted by the return of HMV is that their return will push prices down, at least a little. And who knows. maybe the HMV bargain area will return too.

1. HMV, might be renamed HZV. Well no, not really. Of course it’s not going to be renamed His Zombies Voice, though HMV owners if you’re reading this have your people contact me, just saying. But I am looking forward to discovering what form its resurrection will take. Will it be a case of walking through the doors, and into last year? Nothing really changed, the bargain area, the merchandise section, the gamers corner, the really cute girl with all the tattoos. My refuge from a shopping center filled with bad fake tans, screaming kids, and people who really think that a girl who has her fingernails chewed up to her elbows, would really want a manicure.

Or maybe it’ll be some new form, with only echoes of its past glory. A new evolution of an old dear (occasionally VERY dear) friend.

Aside from the workers of Hilco who knows. And that’s kind of exciting. HMV is my favourite shop of all time. I bought my first, and my last physical albums there. I bought my first VHS tape, DVD, and superman t-shirt there. Hell, I kissed my first girl there. And I’m excited for its new future.

(Of course, I’m probably going to be horribly disappointed.)

13/04/2013

H&M, turn down the fucking lights!

An afternoon of mooching through my local shopping centre was needed. New Look, BB’s for hot chocolate, and to my current detriment H&M.

H&M are not one of my favourite clothing stores. What they do is nice enough I suppose, and it tends to be reasonably well priced. But it’s all sort of cookie cutter…

“Take 1 bolt of cloth.

Cut in shape of XXXXX

Sew.

Repeat.

DO NOT engage imagination in design process.”

…is how I see most of what they sell. Though I will admit that if you want a t-shirt that you’ll still be able to wear in two years time, and at a good price, they do kind of rock.

Where they do not however rock, and/or roll, is in their current in store lighting scheme. I mean, Dear Goddesses was that shop bright! Someone in their limited wisdom decided that what they really needed was simulated daylight, at an intensity only ever seen in the Sahara Desert, at high-noon, in the Summer, during a supernova. Needless to say, this is a light level of a type never found naturally in Ireland, where year-round, a dull matt grey is the prevailing sky color.

Now I’m sure for those weirdos who wander around indoors wearing sunglasses, because it’s obviously not cool to let other people see your eyes, it was probably the perfect lighting. They might actually have been able to see without squinting, or shading their eyes. However for those of us who are of less fashionable victim stock, it was simply painful. Unfortunately here I literally mean painful. Because guess what it triggered?

That’s right, yet another migraine!

Look H&M I kind of like your stuff. But not enough to risk blindness, or at the very least blinding headaches by shopping in your store. So please for the love of all that’s unholy turn down the bloody lights, or and I mean this, I will walk right across the hall, and do all of my shopping in New Look instead. Aside from anything else some of their bits are actually kind of funky…fully lined red red and white gingham prom dress I’m talking about you.

26/02/2013

A Poor Girls Guide to keeping warm, when it’s frikkin’ cold outside (and maybe inside too).

When you live on a shoestring almost nothing will be more of a challenge than staying warm, and staying in budget. Heat is expensive. Period. There’s no way around it. Gas, oil, electricity, coal, and logs are all expensive now, and only going to become more so in the future. And being cold all the time is no fun, trust me on that, I know, in fact let me share a little about my past.

In the last ten years I’ve lived in two frigidly cold homes. One was an apartment in a hundred year old house in Cork City. I loved that apartment so much it was the first space that felt like it was mine. I loved everything about it. I loved that it was on the third floor above MacCurtain Street in Cork City with the view to match. I loved that it was just the right size for me, with a small kitchen/living room, tiny bathroom, and (to me at that time) huge double bedroom. I loved the radioactive orange walls, the 12 foot high ceilings, the panel doors with half an inch of white oil pain on both faces. Everything, I loved it all. But in the five years I lived there I spent every year from late Autumn to mid-Spring perpetually cold. Not chilly, not cool. No this was the real deal, genuine shivering while fully clothed, looking at my own breath cold. A combination of those wonderful 12 foot ceilings with hundred year old, single glazed, badly fitted sash windows meant that it was often even colder inside my home than it was outside on the street.

The second time I was that cold was in a beautifully refurbished apartment. Around 2500 square feet of 9 foot ceilings (not much higher than the industry standard for Ireland), three largish bedrooms, huge kitchen/living room, and a hot-press that was larger than my first childhood bedroom. I shared it with my Partner in Crime, and our slavegirlfriend of the time. I wish I could say we were happy there. I wish I could say we were warm. But despite triple glazed windows, 5 inches of high-efficiency insulation in every wall, and 18 inches in the attic space we froze our asses off for two Winters. So badly in fact that I honestly am not certain that over two years later my health has fully recovered from the damage it took during that time.

Funnily enough both of those apartments shared one trait that made them frozen hells for me, and that trait is my first piece of advice.

1. If you can avoid it at all never ever live anywhere large or with high ceilings that is heated exclusively with electric heating (actually, to be honest, just avoid it like the Goddesses damned plague). 

Heating in general is expensive, but electricity based heating is so expensive that it’s almost like a cosmic joke at your financial, and psychological expense. Those two homes I lived in both were heated with electricity powered storage heaters. Essentially big piles of bricks that are heated over about 12 hours during the evening and night, to then release that heat over the course of the following day. Except in my experience all they actually do is chew up huge amounts of electricity, and spit out hardly any heat worth talking about. Now admittedly these were apartments with either huge floor spaces or high ceilings which didn’t help. But any landlord who is stupid enough to put that sort of heating into that sort of space needs an intimate discussion chaired by Mister Lead-pipe.

How bad was it? Well in the first place I realised fairly quickly it was worthless and just refused to use it. So I sometimes shivered all day, but mostly I found ways to stay warm that were a lot cheaper, if sometimes a little awkward. The second time…well I wound up owing the main Irish electricity supplier, the E.S.B. almost 1200 Euro. It took the better part of two years to break even with them again. Two years during which my PiC and I were constantly harassed by a foreign based collection agency, constant bullying phone-calls, and threats of disconnection. This while we constantly paid it off. So when I say avoid electric heating, I mean it.

One exception to that though.

 2. Own a small high efficiency electric fan or halogen heater.

Yeah I know, after the last section I be you didn’t expect this but there’s a reason. For very small rooms small fan heaters can provide nearly instant, and as long as you use them very carefully, cost-effective heating. The halogen heaters are often rather cheap to run, and provide a lot of light as a useful by-product, though they won’t heat the room, only what the light shines on to. Used for short periods of time they can be a sanity saver if you’re stuck in a cold home, with a small bedroom.

I’ve found that they’re best used to keep yourself warm while you either change clothes or get dressed. Or in a particularly cold bathroom while you sit high upon your throne. So short bursts are the key.

 3. Hot water bottles are your best friend.

Between my moms house, and my own place I own four or five of these little joys. Boil a kettle, fill 3/4’s full, squeeze out the excess air, and slosh, you’ve got a source of heat and comfort for hours, and hours. And they stay hot even longer if they have a fleece cover, which has the added bonus of saving your delicate ass from getting minor burns from the bottle if it’s particularly hot. Even where I live now, with my log burner, and two puppies always willing to cuddle me warm, I often walk around with a hot water bottle stuffed under my top, or hanging/strapped from a sort of string-based harness down to the small of my back. But back when I lived in that apartment in Cork I never, ever let my bottle get cold once the Winter rolled around. It was my constant companion, my inanimate friend, perhaps even my lov…I kid, but it really was a life saver.

4. Sleeping bags are your other best friend.

Sleeping bags used to be ridiculously expensive. These days you can get a halfway decent one for maybe 20 or 30 quid. And they are a great investment. Not only are they source of extra bedding for when guests show up, but day-to-day they can keep you snug while you watch telly, be used to add an extra layer of insulation to your bed on really cold nights, and combined with a hot water bottle can really make up for a lack of heating on all but the coldest of days. At one point in my life I would often spend my time at home in a sleeping bag, with hot water bottle, on my couch, and not actually care that my apartment was so cold that the windows were iced over, on the inside. I would suggest getting the “mummy” type with the hood if possible though, you want to keep your head as warm as possible. Also if you find yourself sitting under it, zip it up and get in to it instead. Sleeping bags work best as traps for body heat, so use them as such.

5. Hot drinks.

This one must seem pretty self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised how often you find yourself wanting a cold drink simply because they’re often more refreshing. Well, when you’re eating a hot meal, ya that’s fine. But when you’re just chilling out (See what I did there? I crack myself up.) your body isn’t being active, and isn’t generating much extra heat, so drink something warm. Fruit teas make a nice, affordable alternative to the more traditional options (Ldle or Aldi’s own brands are rather yummy, and cheap as chips.), but bring to mind some forgotten traditional options too, Bovril is surprisingly tasty, Horlicks has a nice malty bite to it, and a cup of hot milk is both warming and relaxing.

6. Hot meals.

Eat them. Period. Breakfast cereal with hot milk is only 45 seconds in a microwave away. Soup is delicious, nutritious, warming, and if made by yourself as affordable as you choose to make it. Dinners, well if I have to make any points about hot dinners, you may have worse problems than living on that shoestring.

7. Foot warmth.

And finally for today we come to your feet. I’ve been assuming that you’re bright enough to know that you should dress warmly in general to feel warm. But I’ve genuinely seen people wearing multiple layers of clothing on their upper bodies, with a pair of light leggings on their legs, IN SANDALS! And they stood there shivering, and wondered why they were freezing their asses off. Well, there’s a simple rule of thumb I follow, that actually does seem to hold true for most people. If your feet are warm, the rest of you feels warm too. So wear socks, two pairs there-of. Wear slippers, big bulky ones will usually work best. This is all about trapping dead air against and near to your feet.

So two layers of thick socks means a reasonable amount of dead, warm air next to your toes. The big bulky slippers, mean even more. But when you do this don’t neglect your legs, a pair of leggings under your jeans will make a huge difference to your comfort on a cold day/evening. So will and extra pair of panties. Wear one pair of socks that go up to your knees or even higher, AND bring them up over your leggings. No-one will see, but they’ll trap even more warmth.

Staying warm when you’re poor is a mega-bitch. It can be heartbreaking at times for a single person. I can’t imagine the heartache of watching your children go to sleep cold. But I hope at least some of this proves of help to someone.

Part 2 of this article will be here next week.

A poor girls guide to being great with money.

A Poor Girls Guide to Being Great With Money – Christmas Planning. (Part 1)

A Poor Girls Guide to Being Great With Money – Christmas Planning. (Part 2)

A Poor Girls Guide to Being Great With Money – Grocery Shopping.

A Poor Girls Guide to Being Great With Money – Clothes Shopping Part 1: General Tips.

A Poor Girls Guide to Being Great with Money – Clothes Shopping Part 2: The High Street.

A Poor Girls Guide to Being Great with Money – Clothes Shopping Part 3: Thrift Shops.

09/02/2013

HMV, if only I’d known how much I’d miss you.

I spent last weekend in Cork visiting the mammy, and one of my adopted lil sisters. *waves* Hey Neads, so Bif Naked huh? I actually managed to have a pretty funky good time. A Friday afternoon was spent wandering my home city, checking out the shops, and more so the many, many gorgeous female Corkonians. Seriously, why did all the insanely beautiful Cork women decide to come out of hiding after I moved to Dublin? Is my raw sexuality, and sensuality that scary. (Yeah, I don’t believe that last part either, have ya seen me? Raw mincemeat is more like it.)

Very cheap things were bought, a laptop slip cover for my new baby. 10 Euro down from 75!

A pair of John Rocha leather gloves that were supposed to be for my Partner in Crime but which barely fit my moms barely adult sized hands…woops. 18 Euro from 40.

Three Xbox games, Gears of War 1, Golden Axe: Beastrider (cos of the very hot redheaded amazon on the front cover), and Lost something or other (you kill things and then huddle up to them to keep warm before killing more things. Basically a cross between The Lord of the Flies and the first half of Empire Strikes Back.) Should’ve been 25ish Euro, I got them for 15. *fist pump*

Noticeably absent from that list however, for anyone who knows me well, are DVD’s.  I collect movies. My house has somewhere in the region (now) of 300 movies, and probably a dozen box-sets. But the important point to be made at this stage is that I’ve never paid full price for any of those movies. None of them. I will not pay over a tenner for a movie on DVD, and I won’t pay over twenty for a box-set. Let’s put it this way, I’m still waiting to find a copy of Ironman 2 at an acceptable price to round out my Marvel collection.

So, back to Cork last Friday. I’d found gloves, games and laptop accessories. So I decided to use the last of my unassigned money for the weekend to find something cool to watch with my Mom on Saturday evening. I toddled off to the place where HMV has stood on Patricks Street for my entire life. But of course it’s closed down.

Hmm, Virgin, or whatever company own the site of the shop formerly known as Virgin. What The Hell?! Why is there a Dealz there?

Golden Disc’s? I’ll be honest here. I couldn’t remember where Golden Disc’s had shops in Cork so I gave up at that point.

Now G.D. I can take or leave. I always could, it’s never been that great a shop. Virgin, or whatever the last shop on that site was last called…meh. They never had deals that were that good. But HMV. Oh HMV come back to us! My great joys in life the past 9 years or so have been in descending order.

My Partner in Crime. (And my other girlfriend/Slavegirl at the time.) Hubba Hubba!

My friends. They kind of rock collectively, as well as rolling individually.

Video gaming, and watching movies.

The bargain sections of HMV.

My kinky toy-box.

Thrift shops.

Kari Byron.

My electric blanket.

See how high HMV is in that list? Going to Liffey Valley Shopping Center really meant “PiC you wander the clothes shops, I’m going to wander HMV and spend hardly any money on a shit load of movies, or secondhand games.” And now, Liffey Valley just means…New Look. Which is great, don’t get me wrong. Cute staff, and sort of affordable clothing, even if they own nothing what-so-ever that fit on my feet.

HMV has been the unknowing savior of this girls sanity so many times. Those days when I’m in too much pain to sit on the frikkin’ toilet, watch a movie I love, that I bought in HMV. Just finished all my creative work for the day? Reward myself by playing a game I bought in HMV. Feel down over being the only girl in sight with a hair color more commonly seen in Anime or Hentai? Wander through HMV, at least one member of staff would have nutty hair, and cute tats.  Need a birthday present in a hurry? Everyone likes music, or movies, or games, hmm gift voucher, ah HMV.

I’d known they were gone for a while now. I’d even walked past the Liffey Valley branch several times, staring wistfully at the closed shutters, wishing I could wander through it one more time. But last Friday struck home to me just how badly I’m going to miss HMV now that it’s gone. And yes, some other company will buy it, and reopen some, if not most, of those stores. But, it just won’t be the same.

So HMV this one’s for you. And me and Neads. Bif Naked, take it away.

29/12/2012

Seriously Irish Retailers? You Call That a Sale?

Having received a gift voucher as one of my gifts over Xmas I decided yesterday (Thursday) to convince my Partner in Crime that she really wanted to take me to Liffey Valley Shopping Center. After all I’d been such a good Puppygirl over Xmas, how could she deny my whimpering and the simpering eyes? As it turns out she couldn’t. Or at least she wanted to get out of the house, and I was as good an excuse as any to do so.

Unfortunately the Christmas Sales (at least in Liffey Valley) turned out to be something of a damp squib. Not in the customer numbers, you could barely walk through a lot of the shops yesterday without bumping into people, or stepping on children. No it was more an issue of what was on offer, as in, sweet fuck all! I was actually kind of disgusted. So was my PiC.

The only shop that had anything decent that was both available, and well priced was New Look. HMV, which I had the voucher for, had mostly their normal regular deals. Which is something I love about HMV, if you pop in regularly you’ll always find something nice to listen, watch, or play at a good price, regardless of the time of year. But that was pretty much all they had on offer in their “Sales”. The few clothing stores I looked in, all seemed to have decided that the word “Sale” actually meant “See all that shite in the corner that no-one bought? Yeah, throw it on the rails at its original price, people are thick they won’t notice.”

Now I accept that the sales always include a certain amount of that. And sometimes it’s cool, there’s a piece that I wanted to get, and for one reason or another I missed when it was on regular retail. But so many Irish retailers seem to have done nothing else this sale. All the while laughing up their sleeves at the muppets who didn’t notice…

Well I noticed. And I was not impressed.

08/12/2012

A Poor Girls Guide to Being Great With Money – Christmas Planning. (Part 2)

So last Wednesday the Irish Government hammered the living shit out of the Irish people with the sixth austerity budget in a row. And again it was the poor, the middle classes, but not the wealthy, who got their asses reamed with a cactus which had first been wound with barbed wire, then embedded with rusty razor blades. Thanks lads, we all really needed more to worry about right now…

Anyway around this time last year I wrote a short guide to having a somewhat thriftier Christmas. Well no sooner had I posted it than I started coming up with more ideas for having a happy, but affordable Christmas. Now I could have written them in a second guide last year, but let’s face it, I’m lazy, and that would have meant struggling to come up with ideas for this year. So with no further scrambling for excuses here is my second guide to enjoying Christmas without having to sell a kidney in the New Year.

Kriss Kringle: Let me start this by saying I HATE those two words. I loathe how they sound. When I speak them it’s like a pair of gnomes have climbed down my throat and are jabbing my vocal chords with ice-picks. But it is a great idea, and amongst a group of adults is a brilliant way for everyone to get a lovely gift, and save money. Seriously, if you have the option to do this, do it. You could reduce your list from say 6 gifts at 30 Euro a pop down to 1 at 50. For those who aren’t cheating by having a calculator in class (And why aren’t you cheating? Have you learned nothing over the past year of “Poor Girl” guides?) in that case you would have a saving of 130 Euro for each person in that group. Argue with the sense of that.

Boozing Up: The great thing about wine, and beer, and vodka, and delicious, delicious bourbon is that they don’t go off. (Or at least not quick enough to really matter.) This means there’s no reason, aside from self-control, that you can’t pick up those special offers on drinks over the course of the year. And in so doing save yourself a fortune on your Christmas shop. Also spreading the cost makes it far more bearable. Of course you could just not drink, but that’s madness, and crazy talk.

Sharing a Meal: I get the whole, “I have my own family now we should have dinner together, and visit ye later…” thing. Kids like to be in their own space, with their new toys. You like the idea of crawling back in to bed. You know all that jazz. But the thing is, if you all band together just for the meal, and share the costs, you can all end up saving big money, and still have a great time. Not to mention it’ll make Nanny happy. Of course you could do what I did one year, and spend the whole day alone in your apartment, watching telly, and eating reheated curry…fuck that was such a good day. Problem is it made everyone I love miserable thinking about me on my own. Anyway, ya share the costs people!

Re-use/Rebuild/Re-gift: People give out to me because I’m really careful not to tear the wrapping paper, because it could be reused. I’ve rebuilt PC’s using my MacGuyver like know-how, and my huge collection of spare parts are presents. Or given modified toys. I have even, it is true, given someone else, something which a well-meaning soul previously gave to me. They’re all valid ways to save money, and really, if you don’t use it then why shouldn’t someone else get some fun out of it?

Just frikkin’ make one!: Most of my friends have gotten pieces of chainmaile as gifts from me at some point. Usually at a point where I had zero money, but almost infinite time. I’ve also gotten beautiful gifts which were made just for me, my favourite of those being my hand drawn sketch of Pauley Perrette, the one that hangs over my bed, looking all sexy, and stuff. If you can’t afford to buy, make. I know the materials cost money, but usually for the price of one gift you can get the materials for several. And really most people will appreciate the effort more than the cost.

So that’s it, year two of my guides to a thrifty Christmas. Goddesses alone know what I’ll come up with for next years, ’cause I sure as hell don’t.

30/10/2012

The Worst Thing About Shopping Online.

I love to shop online. I don’t do it often, but when I do I take my time to hunt for exactly what I want, at exactly the right price. And so far it has paid off for me. Over the years I’ve snapped up some really great deals. A power supply for my PC which should have caught me for 100 Euro came in to my hands for only 35 Euro. Brand new, and in a sealed box. Or the complete Dr. Seuss collection for only 35 Euro, when the cheapest I’d previously found it in my local bookshops was almost 8 Euro per book, and there’s a lot of books in that collection.

But as rewarding an experience as it can be to find that great deal, there is one aspect of online shopping, especially on Amazon, and before that Ebay that drives me nuts. That turns me completely, and utterly monkey-poo. Fake product images.

There are people who will advertise one thing, say a replacement attachment for a vacuüm cleaner. Everything seems legit, the description is right, and the image matches. But when you open your delivery what do you find? A much lower spec item, which in no way resembles the picture of the item you ordered. And guess what? It’ll cost you more than the item price in postage to return it!

I really, truly hate this.

Now I have to admit that I have been pretty lucky in this regard. So far in about four years of online shopping, yes I was a late arrival to the realms of shopping for nice things from the comfort of my bed, I’ve only been stung this way twice. But boy did both of them hurt.

The first time there was this beautiful latex hood, a deep purple color, with gorgeous plaited strands of a thicker latex making up two ponytails. I just had to have it. This being back in the days before I’d realised that the reason I couldn’t breathe when I wore latex hoods was not in fact sheer excitement, rather it was more than a touch of an allergy. I’d asked a friend to use their credit card to buy it, and paid them the money in cash. Again this was through Ebay. Bit of a mistake that. What got in the door, wasn’t so much purple as flesh-colored, and wasn’t so much latex as badly stitched spandex.

The second time I had ordered a dozen mid-range aluminium arrows for my longbow. I’d pretty much destroyed my earlier ones by missing the target, and doing my best to bury them in the concrete wall behind it. I made the mistake of ordering them from a certain Ebay seller. To say the least what I received in the mail was a let down. Half a dozen, bad quality fibreglass arrow shafts, with no tips, or feathers.

Both sellers claimed to have mistakenly posted the wrong item. Both sellers were lying through their teeth, as I later discovered that they both had terrible reputations for just these sorts of bait, and switch tactics.

This topic comes up because, funnily enough, I today ordered a replacement part for my vacuüm cleaner. Again I’m in that place where I have to put my trust in the integrity of someone who I wouldn’t know if I ran them over in the street. And frankly it’s unnerving. I don’t have very much spare cash at the best of times, and these are far from the best of times. So those 12 Euro are a big deal for me, even though I do really need that part, I’m sick of the clumps of dog hair, and the dust bunnies that are large enough that they’ve grown their own legs, and developed their own culture. But as I clicked the “Buy” button on Amazon I had that flickering moment of doubt.

I truly hate not being able to trust people to be honorable, even more than I hate wasting money.

09/10/2012

A Poor Girls Guide to Being Great with Money – Clothes Shopping Part 3: Thrift Shops.

Over the past two weeks I’ve written about how I make my clothes budget stretch as far as possible. But there’s still one type of ultra-thrifty real-world shopping we haven’t touched on yet.

“What type is that Amanda?” I hear you ask.

Well, imagine a place filled with clothes. A place with shelf after shelf of books. A place to go and buy a DVD, or console game. How about a place where you can get yourself a nice computer desk for 7 Euro (I did, once.).

“But where is this magical land of moonbeams, and pixies who fart rainbows?”

Well actually, it’s your local thrift shop. These are usually run by one charity or another, and work by taking in donations of clothing (and just about anything else.) which they then sort, get rid of the crap, and sell the rest on to the public. They’re my favourite places to shop, you could find just about anything there, leather-wear (In 8 years I’ve found two designer leather skirts and an ankle length leather coat.), vintage fur (One X-mas I gave my mom a rabbit-fur jacket which was in perfect condition, and 40 years old if it was a day.), goth-wear (My shiny New Rocks spring to mind here.), just about anything.

The thing is though, there are ways to make your cash stretch even further, even when using a charity shop. So here are my tips for maximizing your value for money while Thrift shopping.

1: Learn to haggle:

Yes I know that the items in thrift store are already dirt-cheap but by the careful application of a little negotiation you may well save a few cents more. Remember these aren’t high street shops, the people working there know that they’re selling stuff other people didn’t want anymore. And what’s more, they know you’re doing them a huge favour by not only taking that stuff off of their hands, but by actually paying for the privilege. Think about that for a second. You’re paying to take away things which were freely donated to a particular charity.

So haggle people.

I’m not saying be obnoxious, but ask if that price is the best they’ll do on the item. If they offer you a top for 6 Euro, offer them 5. If they go for it you’ve saved yourself a Euro (not to be sniffed at in these recessionary times), they don’t go for it, well all you’ve wasted is a little breath.

2: Bulk buying.

This leads directly from my last point. Sometimes if you buy a few items in one lot, you’ll find it easier to cut a deal on the cost. The classic example of this is to bring 3, or 5 items to the til, and try to get the cheapest one free. Again if they don’t go for it, it’s only cost you a few seconds of your time. Though this does work best if the cheapest item is considerably cheaper than the rest.

3: Check for invisible cosmetic damage.

You should always check any purchase for visible damage no matter what it is. Sometimes that damage can be the first warning of serious underlying problems with your new possession. And I would say as a general rule if it has any significant visible structural damage you should pass on it, unless it absolutely will not affect the function/lifespan of the item, and can be used to lower the price at the till. Now that said, what I just wrote really only applies to appliances. For clothing if there’s any visible damage I just let it go. But what if there’s a small amount of internal damage? A slightly torn hem. A small tear in the lining. Something easily repairable?

After over a decade of good finances most of us would say “Pass on it.” But if it is easily repaired, by yourself or someone who isn’t going to charge you, or if the item is something exceptional AND the damage is still minor (A genuine designer jacket with as mentioned a slight tear in one hem, or a missing button, things like that.) you should buy them. Not only that but you should try to use that damage as a negotiating point to cut to cost of that item.

4: Get to know what you really wanted from last season.

I’ve lived on a shoestring for a long time. Since I transitioned 8 years ago I’ve bought maybe 20 brand new items of clothing that hadn’t had a ridiculous mark down (50% minimum) during a sale, that weren’t underwear (never buy secondhand undies, seriously, there’s a line in the sand.). Sometimes walking into clothes store filled with lovely brand new clothes, which I couldn’t afford in a fit, is a hugely depressing experience. In I walk, see a dress (It’s usually a dress, though sometimes it’s a skirt.), fall in love, see the price, and somehow stop myself from crying in public.

But the thing I’ve found over those years is that usually at some stage those same outfits will be in a thrift store near me. Patience is the key here, patience and a LONG mental list of things I want from the last four or five seasons.

Keeping a clear image of the things you really want in mind from that length of time saves you money for one very simple reason. If you know what you want, what you really want, you’re far less likely to waste what little money you have on something you really don’t want, and will never wear.

5: Thrift stores are for Christmas too.

I’m not saying that you buy all your presents in one. After all, that’s probably not truly feasible, especially if you have kids to cater for. But, you could easily get your outfit for the day itself, and something pretty to wear for when you’re giving a pretty Velma-like geek-girl her New Years lapdance. You could find that really unusual curio that would be the perfect gift for your eccentric friend who loves old statues of owls. Or your bookworm cousin who just can’t find the last part of that collection which has been out of print for a decade.

But mostly think clothes. Have you that friend who only wear vintage (damn hipster wannabe)? Or someone who would truly adore that very decoratively and well-made velvet skirt you can see in the corner? Remember that for some people it really is the thought that counts, not the expense. So find out which are which and your local thrift store could be a financial life saver next Christmas.

6: Get to know your local Thrift/Charity shops, and their staff.

This is the most important thing you can do to save money when thrift shopping. And here’s why. Shops are like human beings, creatures of habit. They tend to get they deliveries on the same day every week. They tend to put out new stock on the same day every week also. Habit is sometimes efficient. It certainly can be for the intrepid thrift shopper.

Find out what day the main sorting house for each store delivers in your area. Talk to the staff in your local shop, get to know them, and get them to hold on to certain types of things for you. Be friendly, be excruciatingly polite. Be a regular face that they always see on a certain day. Become a part of the habits of that shops ecosystem. Donate items yourself.

The key to really making thrift shopping pay off is to work at it. There are amazing deals in those shops some of the time, and the trick to finding those deals is being in the know. So be in the know, find a way to the inside track, and combine it with your haggling, your lists, with knowing you measurements perfectly. Spend wisely, don’t buy things you don’t really want. Think clearly, and with a little extra effort you could quickly find yourself with a wonderful wardrobe, at a fraction of the price.

So, that’s it. Our guide to clothes shopping on a budget is finished. I hope it’s helped you at least a little, and that you’ll stick around for future “Poor girl guide…”‘s…

Ah bugger! I forgot online shopping. Right, that will be coming up in the near future too. *sigh*

02/10/2012

A Poor Girls Guide to Being Great with Money – Clothes Shopping Part 2: The High Street.

Last week I wrote about five basic tips which are universal to both “real-life” forms of clothes shopping. (Online clothes shopping is a different kettle of fish altogether, actually it’s more like a kettle of potentially very badly salted beef, but that’s a post for another day.) Today I want to cover a few points which have, over the past decade of very frugal living, helped me to save quite a bit of money on my clothing budget when I hit the high street. And yes, I know, in Ireland we mostly have “Main Street”‘s not “High Street”‘s, but let’s face it “High Street shopping.” has such a nice ring to it.

Anyway, so you’ve headed out for a day of shopping. Your work wardrobe is falling apart. Your left breast keeps dropping through a hole in your bra. And the dog ate your last pair of non-holey leggings. You’ve put this off for months, for far too long actually, because there’s a recession, and that money was generally needed for unimportant things like heating, and food. But at the end of the day since you don’t live in a nudist colony, (or maybe you do in which case if you’re female pictures please) you have to get some clothes to wear that don’t make you look like you live with an incredibly hungry Mothra.

A very hungry Mothra killed my entire corset wardrobe once. I’ll never forgive him! (image via 15mmp.blogspot.ie)

But how to make sure you get value for money?

1: Spend shoe leather, not cash:

I know how tempting it is to buy something in the first place you see it. It’s cold and wet out there. There’s wolves, and rabid zombies on those streets. And there’s this pretty pencil skirt, just sitting on the rail waiting for you to take it with you. But you see there’s this thing called a fashion trend. What that means when you get down to it is this, every major retail chain will have their own version of most pieces of clothing. The differences between those versions will be very minor. Aside, sometimes, from price.

So yes, you can buy the first version you see. But remember that in most shopping precincts, such as the Henry Street area of Dublin, all the major retail chains are within minutes walk of each other. The quality, unless you pay an exceedingly high price will be much the same. And even though you may only save a Euro or two on each piece, those quickly add up. More savings mean more money to spend on more pieces, and the longer you’ll be able to go between splurges.

2: High Street splurges aren’t a bad thing, if you plan for them:

Money is tight all over right now. But unless you’re in the worst of dire circumstances, you can probably save some small few quid each week. And that saving is the key to thrifty High Street shopping. Clothes shopping, unlike many things in life, is something you can prepare, and plan ahead for. You know your clothes have a finite lifespan. You know when they’re starting to give up the ghost.  And if you watch the websites of the various retail chains you can have a pretty good idea of their prices ranges. And you should always do your best to plan to hit the shops when they have their…

3: SALES! SALES! SALES!:

Sales are where you will make real savings. Do I really need to explain that?

What you should do though is go with a list of what you need. When there are sales everywhere, and all the prettiness that has taunted you for months sits there, arrayed before you. Most of it at prices you can, for once, afford it is often almost too hard to stick to a plan. So that’s why a written list of what you need is your best friend. And remember that if you don’t find something from that list in one sale, there’s another in three months time, as these days most businesses have a sale for each season, and many even have sales for totally nonsensical holidays.

4: Do get a loyalty card:

I know they’re a pain with how they clog up your purse. And that if you had one for every single store you shopped in our bag would weigh the same as a small country. But if you them you can use them to build up points, and then use those points to save even more money int he future. Just make a point of only taking the ones you’ll need for a given day with you.

5: Do use your debit card:

I am a huge fan of debit cards, especially Visa, or MasterCard ones. All the purchasing flexibility of a credit card, but you can ONLY spend what’s actually in your bank account. Now this does need you to be able to keep a running score of what is actually in your bank account in your head. But if you’ve followed the hints from my original post then you already have that skill worked to a finely honed edge.

My usual way to use my debit card is to set a spend limit for a given day, and keep a track of what I have spent within that limit. Also remember that most businesses will have a minimum spend limit on whether you can use your debit card or not.

6: Don’t be tempted by your credit card:

Okay a little confession here. I’m a Vera Wang girl. I honestly, truly believe that no-one else designs such beautiful dresses with tall girls in mind with anything like her panache. The days I feel like seeing something truly beautiful I wander into one of the higher class places which stock her dresses. And I spend an hour drooling over them. Especially her prom dress. I, of course, then take a look at the price tag, have a minor heart attack, and try to make myself feel better by drinking a lot of hot chocolate.

This leads to the evil of credit cards. I don’t have a credit card. I’ve never had one. I point-blank refused to accept one when my old bank tried to force on me. Why? Because of Vera Wang.

If I had access to credit I don’t know if I’d be able to stop myself, especially if she had released something which had that Hellenic Greek look to it. And if that was on special offer? I’d end up owing my soul for that dress.

I know it’s a wedding dress, but I’d dust the damned house wearing that thing! (image via About.com)

Don’t use your credit card. Period. Get rid of it. Freeze it in a block of ice. Store it in a metal box at the bottom of a lava pit. Do what ever you have to do. But don’t use it, because if you’re thrifting hard you simply can not afford to use it.

Not even for *sobs* Vera WAAAAAAAAAAANG! *collapses in a heap*

And with that I will say goodbye, come back next week and we’ll close with my tips for maximizing your value for money while shopping in thrift stores…*wistful sigh* Someday Vera, someday…

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