Thursday, November 20, 2008

Finding relief in public restrooms

Remember the good old days when buying staples like ipods and $60 miracle lip plumper went without thinking?

Understandably, it's a bit of a shock to find yourself standing perplexed in the dry goods aisle calculating which toilet paper brand comes out best on a cost per sheet basis, factored with the ply and estimated absorbency ratio. Quilting isn't even an option.

Here’s a little known secret to help you cope: there’s unsecured toilet paper, paper towels, light bulbs and possibly even soaps, fine linens and spare change out there that are yours for the taking. You just need to keep your eyes open and plan ahead. And by plan ahead, I mean carry a large empty bag with you at all times.

Sadly, the genteel practice of laying out fine linens, soaps, perfumes and lotions with an attendant and change dish in public restrooms is dying fast. A few hoity-toity clubs you can no longer afford to join and Belgium still have these amenities.

If you're lucky enough to be visiting a hoity-toity club or Belgium, distract the attendant, by making horrible sound effects while in the stall. When she's checking out the damage, shove everything in the bag and run. Chances are the attendant will be too old to catch you. And since most restrooms aren't equipped with alarms, you'll have no problem getting away with your Bounty, Charmin or Scott).

The bright side of living in an restroom attendant-free society is that stocking up on the basic staples (ie: TP, light bulbs) is a breeze.

If you're a stickler for quality, your best bet is four and five star hotels. If you’re near one, stop in. Enjoy the interior design, watch the people, use the bathroom. Take all the toilet paper you can from the stall and put it in your bag. If nobody is around, repeat the procedure in every stall and proceed to the paper towels, or luxurious hand linens if the hotel is four or five star. (guide to free luxury products from hotel maid carts, spas and gyms coming soon.)

If the light bulbs in the rest room are compatible with your fixtures, take them. If they're not compatible, take the fixtures as well. Always make sure to turn off the lights for several minutes before attempting to take bulbs. If you're in a hurry, wear gloves or pot holders which will also help if you're worried about fingerprints.

If you don't live near any luxury hotels, you can make due with gyms, libraries, hospitals, museums (go on the day admission is free), police stations…virtually any public facility. Don’t feel guilty. You paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes over the years. The least you could get out of it is a little free toilet paper. It’s not like you’re asking for a $700 billion bailout or anything.

If you have friends who still have jobs, visit them at their office. (detailed guide to fabulous free items from office kitchens and supply rooms coming soon).You wouldn’t believe the riches you can find in an office restroom. Possibly even tampons, depending on the industry. Forget any moral qualms you might have. Chances are your friend works for some huge multi-national corporation that has received millions in tax breaks and incentives and is about to fire your friend to help with their bottom line despite the huge amounts their executives get paid in salary, perks and bonuses. Dick Cheney is probably a stockholder in the company. Take everything that's not bolted down.

If you're anything like me, you've probably spent most of your life avoiding public restrooms. But once you open your mind and eyes, you'll realize opportunity is everywhere. Seize it. Just make sure nobody is watching.

Warning: Do not attempt if you have a wide stance.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An undervalued asset in tough times

In a volatile economic market I can think of no better cushion (aside from cash) than duct tape. And the good news is, you probably already have some lying around from when you stocked up after 9/11.

Aside from it’s obvious usefulness as an anti-terrorist tool, duct tape is one of those simple products that fulfill a wide variety of needs, (kind of like cheap vodka).

Naturally, it serves all the adhesive functions more costly Scotch and masking tapes do, but because of it’s strength, duct tape does so much more.

This invaluable tape seals your home, refrigerator box, tent or garbage bag from inclement weather and noxious fumes. But that’s only the beginning.

It’ also can be used to fix shoes, coats, hems and handbags. And if your “vintage” Pradas are beyond repair, you can use duct tape to fashion a brand new pair of flip flops.(click for guide to making flip flops out of duct tape)

If you’re loathe to carry your worldly possessions in generic shopping bags, use this miracle tape to repair the tears in your old Hermes, Gucci and Prada shopping bags. Or try making your own personal statement with a handmade duct tape bag. Use it to waterproof the sofa that someone threw out on the street. You can even make a wallet if you’re feeling lucky. Go crazy, metallic is in. (click to learn more tricks with duct tape)

Duct tape can also substitute for thousands of dollars in cosmetic procedures and expensive foundations and undergarments.

For example, if you’re noticing a little sagging along the neck and jowl lines, simply pull the lose skin behind your neck and duct tape it back there. Use this method for whatever parts are sagging (ie breasts, buttocks, underarms and thighs. Hint: shave the area you affix the tape to in order to avoid unnecessary pain should you ever decide to remove the duct tape.

In short, duct tape is probably one of the few investments you made over the past 10 years that’s worth anything today. There’s no better time to reap the dividends.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Finding your next set of wheels

art by deb lucke
Chances are, if you’re not in the market for a shopping cart right now, you will be soon. This guide should help you find the cart that’s right for you.

Costco shopping carts
Costco carts are humongous and totally lacking in style. But that’s part of their charm. In fact, it's the only part of their charm. Two-toned in black and grey steel, the design is no-nonsense--boxy and utilitarian. Made to shlep almost a ton of your most important belongings, even the 60 inch plasma TV you can’t bear to part with. Ergonomics are mediocre. A highly placed handle bar could contribute to shoulder and neck problems with continued use. The wheel system is primitive, yielding a rather bumpy ride. All in all, not a great choice unless you're a hopeless pack rat.
Target shopping carts
Target carts are sleek, shiny and well-designed. Metallic silver with accents of red, somehow these carts possess a sporty air that belies their massive size. Steel wheels and well maintained turning valves guarantee a smooth ride. A flap down child seat makes this the perfect cart for people with families who haven’t lost their style. Rumor has it, next years model will have a tin cup holder.

Safeway shopping carts
A solid cart that holds a lot of stuff. Silver all over with particularly wide grids, Comes in a choice of Red or Blue plastic accents. it’s not the most efficient vehicle for transporting smaller items like jewelry and tchatchkes and cosmetics which can slip through the holes, but it’s great for larger objects like your shoes, purses and wintercoats. Theres a foot bar near the base on the drivers side that makes it particularly fun for popping wheelies.
Albertsons shopping carts
Frankly, these are the Pinto of shopping carts. It’s not that they’re unattractive. They’re well designed from a esthetic point of view. But practically speaking, they’re one of the reasons Albertsons are closing all over the country. The wheels don’t turn properly, they’re imbalanced and are always getting stuck. Particularly in the ice cream section. But even if they were driveable, these carts were obviously designed by someone who only uses shopping carts for groceries. The size and inner design ensures that everything in it, from your aquarium, to your wardrobe to 20 pounds of old newspaper are always cramped.
Lucky shopping carts
While owned by Albertsons, the Lucky logo on your shopping cart shows that you have both style and a keen sense of irony. Design-wise ithere’s nothing flashy about these carts. They’re your basic middle of the road, well constructed, durable cart. They have got plenty of room and the ride is smooth. A nice ergonomic touch, the hand formed rubber handles provide an exceedingly comfortable grip. On the downside, these carts are prone to rust, so you have to be careful to keep them out of the rain. Not recommended for Pacific Northwest dwellers unless they have a second cart.

Trader Joes shopping carts
Neither luxury or utilitarian, a Trader Joe's cart is the rare hybrid that’s both practical and sporty. The lines are jaunty and clean, it comes in a hot fire engine red, the wheels are aligned so it corners like a dream. And while the cart is compact and agile, it carries a lot of stuff. The best of all worlds.

Whole Foods shopping carts
Definitely the status cart of the bunch. Sleek stainless steel design with forest green accents. Ergonomically designed handles and baby seat. But like so many coveted vehicles, the Whole Food cart has some fatal flaws. The wheels have a tendency to stick, which makes running from the law or creditors problematic. Such thoughtless engineering is all the more unforgivable considering that shopping at Whole Foods helped you go broke in the first place.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Maintaining a social life while broke

If you’re out of work, or about to be, there’s no better time to get your face out there and circulate. Not a pleasant prospect when you have stress induced cold sores, no clean clothes, haven’t showered in days and the two crowns you glued back in your mouth could fall out any minute because the Elmers isn’t holding. Understandably, you’re not feeling very sociable.
Buck up. There’s no better time in history to be broke, unpresentable and anti-social and still be viable socially and as an employee.

Think about it; with the internet, you can conduct all your significant relationships online, without any costly personal interaction.

Sure, proximity is nice. But face it, every time you leave your place of residence, be it hovel or storage container, it’ll cost you. Of course there’s the emotional toll of trying to look presentable. But the actual financial expense is what kills you. Last time I met a friend for coffee it cost me $76.00. Here’s the breakdown: hair dye 10.00, laundry 8.00, $40.00 for transportation ($5.00 for gas, $35 for the parking ticket); $15.00 for two coffees and a scone; $5.00 for the tiny tin of mints I couldn’t resist near the cash register; $12.00 for a box of godiva chocolates that were also on sale near the cash register -- 66% off, who can beat that? $4.00 for a copy of Allure magazine because it had an article about a miracle beauty treatment (the damn article was about sleep!!!), $75.00 for the pair of shoes in the window of the store next door to the coffee shop.

If you‘re in the mood for a little intelligent conversation and some sort of human connection without spending a cent, brew yourself a cup of Nescafe from the packet you stole from your parents’ hotel room when they were in town and let your fingers do the walking to There you can discuss the political implications of Sarah Palin’s wardrobe with like-minded intellectuals. Or try the AOL Middle East Affairs message board. You’d be amazed at the friendships you can forge arguing over who started 1967 war. No matter what your interest, Google is your new best friend.

To maintain your most important relationships, Facebook is a fabulous way to stay in touch with all your friends and family who won’t return your phone calls, but care enough to click a link. Imagine, without spending a cent on transportation, grooming, dining, drinking or even a phone call, you can be the first to know that Nick is bored with his job, Al has hemorrhoids (note to self, go to e-cards for appropriate, thoughtful condolence message), lots of people have cute babies and Mike is obviously having a mid-life crisis judging by his excessive use of emoticons. Imagine how much it would have cost to continue this kind of close interaction before the Internet? It would have been impossible.

Or say you’re in the market for a significant other. A few years ago, you would have had to spend countless dollars on grooming, transportation and blender drinks in order to find your soul mate. Now you can find true love on one of the myriad dating sites on the net.

Sure, sooner or later you’ll have to go out and actually meet the object of your affection. But considering that most Internet relationships fail when the couple actually meets, prolonging the courtship for as long as possible makes Internet relationships a win/win/win proposition. Think of the money you’ll save on doctor bills and condoms. One note: beware of sites that have video applications—the last thing you want to worry about is having your true love see you.

So a moment of appreciation to Al Gore for inventing the internet. Thanks to him, as long as you have your 76 Facebook friends, dozens of winks on and your three fans on Huffington Post, you'll never be alone.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election note

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the significance of the election and how it impacted people who're struggling financially.
Those who voted got free ice cream at Ben and Jerry's and a free coffee at Starbucks. Chunky Monkey and coffee make a well balanced, delicious breakfast.
God bless America.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Taking pleasure in the little things—a pep talk

Sure, it’s a bummer not being able to soothe yourself with expensive toys, couture, gourmet delicacies or electricity any more. But look on the bright side. When you’re poor, you really learn to appreciate the simple things.

I’ll use an example from my own life. A moment of epiphany. One fall afternoon, before my car was repossessed, I parked hastily to pick up some free samples being passed out on the corner and returned to a piece of paper on my windshield. My heart stopped when I saw it fluttering in the wind.

My mind raced darkly as I approached the car. I thought to myself, ‘Dear God, if I just got a $40 parking ticket in order to get free samples of Fiber One cereal, shoot me now. I’m going to be so poor, I’ll have to eat the Fiber One. Why me? Life is so freaking unfair I don’t think I can bear another minute. I hate Fiber One.”

But before I could lapse into a deep depression, I reached under the windshield wiper, and saw it was only a handwritten note that said “nice parking, asshole. Fuck you!” A surge of joy and relief rushed through me that I can only liken to winning the Olympics or consuming eight Scharffenberger milk chocolate nibby bars in one sitting. I believe I might have even done a celebratory fist pump.

It was at that moment I realized, had I been solvent, the note would have brought me no joy at all. When I had money, I needed expensive, meaningless possessions to make me happy. But being poor, a scrawled, “fuck you” note” is like a gift from the heavens. Now imagine the potential bliss of an eviction notice or “Dear John” letter.

When you look at it this way, there’s so much to look forward to.