Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jody's story: indulgence vs. reality

Last week, we introduced you to Jody Mace, whose passion for finding bargains in Charlotte - and her Web site chronicling that passion - became more personal when her husband lost his job in the banking industry.

We've been bringing you stories like Jody's from around Charlotte, voices that speak to how the recession affects all of us. We want to hear your stories of struggles and successes, too.

Jody has promised to check in regularly with deals - and sometimes the tales behind them. Today she offers another perspective on good bargains: When might they not be so good?

Says Jody:

Like many addictions, mine started with one indulgence. My indulgence was a pasta making attachment for a KitchenAid Mixer at Goodwill for $2.99. Although the chances of me making homemade pasta are about the same as me repairing the electrical system on the space shuttle, let me point out that this item sells on Amazon.com for $65.60. Discounted.

Even if I never make any spaghetti, the deal was irresistible. I could sell it on eBay. I didn't (it sits in a kitchen cabinet) but I could.

But it's not just the bargain; it's the karma too. Every item I buy second-hand is one that doesn't end up in a landfill. That's why I'm guilty of a little self-righteousness at Goodwill.

Soon I found more deals I couldn't pass up. The leather recliner for only $20. So what if there was a little tear in the arm and it was prone to reclining violently at a terrifying angle for no apparent reason? A fully loaded picnic basket (never used it), then a barbecue grill set (did use this.)

My obsession was contagious. Before long my husband, Stan, was with me at the Goodwill, examining a pair of wooden shoes. Both were for left feet. One was slightly larger than the other.

"What are the chances," he asked, "that there's a Dutch person who has two left feet of different sizes?"

We didn't buy them, but we couldn't resist the blood pressure cuff, the cologne bottle in the shape of Abe Lincoln, the moose costume for our dog, and the small marble statue of the Sphynx.

Soon Goodwill wasn't enough. We graduated to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, where they sell really big things, like doors and kitchen cabinets. We were finishing our basement, so we had the perfect excuse.

Anyone who visited our house got the same routine from me.

"Do you see that light fixture? ReStore. The Foosball table? Yup. That, too. Yes, the bathroom fixtures too. Yes, even the toilet. (Pause) What's wrong with that?"

I regularly receive emails from the ReStore, so I know when the good stuff comes in. Like the restaurant booth. Anderson's Restaurant, a Charlotte landmark, had closed and Habitat was auctioning off all its furniture, including about nine booths, each one with the light fixture for the wall and a laminated menu.

They didn't have to tell me twice. As the auction closed I was among a small group of people cagily circling the booths, ready to scribble down a higher offer should anyone outbid us.

Bringing home a genuine restaurant booth was the high point of my bargain-hunting career.

Then came the theater seats. Flying high from my booth win, I had to have them. They were from an auditorium and folded up just like the seats in movie theaters. I thought we could arrange a bunch in front of the big-screen TV and create a home theater room in the basement. It all made perfect sense.

Except that we bought eleven of them. And we didn't have room for them. And they had to be bolted to the floor. And they were extremely heavy. And we didn’t even have a big-screen TV.

When we first stored them in the garage, we honestly believed we'd eventually find a use for them. But what? As time passed, the theater seats became a symbol of our shared obsession, our excess. There wasn't even room in the garage for our car. I asked around but nobody wanted eleven used theater seats. I was pretty sure the ReStore didn't want them back, and my conscience prevented me from putting them on the curb to end up in a landfill. So they remained in the garage.

If those theater seats, sitting folded between the vacuum cleaner ($10) and the upholstered storage bench ($20) weren't enough to open my eyes, the recession suddenly forced the issue. My husband lost his job. My freelance assignments slowed down.

I don't have the indulgence anymore of buying something just because it's a good bargain. If I can't use it, and I can't get rid of it, then no matter what the price tag says, the cost is too high.

I'm getting good at resisting temptation. I didn't buy the Eggstractor (as seen on TV), the ice cream machine, or the slide projector. I passed on the hip waders and the manual typewriter.

Sometimes it takes an intervention - in our case, a drop in income - to force a change. This is what it feels like, I tell myself, to conquer an addiction.

Then the phone rings. It's Stan and he's at the Goodwill. "There's this gazebo…"


Anonymous said...

Think of all the money you'd have in the bank right now if you hadn't bought all that crap.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter if you "get a deal" if it is for something you don't want, don't need, or won't use. I'll never forget being called out (quite nastily as I remember) when I bought a single bag of chips for 60 cents in the cafeteria at a client when they were selling two bags of the same chips for a dollar. The cashier said something like "Well, I WISH I COULD THROW AWAY MONEY the way YOU DO". I was hurt and insulted but the point I was going with was that I didn't WANT two bags of chips, I only rarely eat them, and would actually be paying $.40 MORE to get two rather than one, and the second bag would most likely be thrown out since no one else I knew wanted them. Sounds silly, but people get silly sometimes. If you can't or won't use what you buy on such a deal, it's not really a deal at all.

Anonymous said...

Loved this essay! Very funny. My obsession is craft materials (but I'm not crafty). First I saved little bits of berry themed cloth to make a quilt for my daughter who loves berries. I don't know how that started, as I've never made a quilt in my life, but 5 years later, my daughter still is on the hunt for berry cloth, and the bag in the closet is getting bigger and bigger.

Uh oh. I may someday be forced to actually make a quilt.

I have a bag of corks I'm saving for a huge corkboard, and purple and green ties because my son wanted me to make a headboard of old ties and his room is in mardi gars colors (lucikily, purple and green ties aren't very popular, so Ii may never have enough for that project.

But I am trying to avoid actually BUYING craft materials. But I probably would've gone for the restaurant booth. I always wanted one of those.

Kris Bordessa said...

Funny, funny. As a fellow thrifter I see the humor and irony in what you've written. I, too, have brought home a deal that I couldn't pass up only to find that though I *thought* I'd use it, I didn't.

I highly recommend that you find out if your local refuse station has a reuse store. My best bargain ever came from ours. For $5, a crusty looking wooden cabinet with peeling white paint. Cleaned and refinished, it's a gorgeous oak cabinet that I get lots of compliments on. Um, yeah. From the dump.

Mary said...

Hopefully the recession will cure some of their shopping addiction. This addiction is sad for the addicted and for the planet.

Jurate said...

Easy recipe for pasta dough:

One cup flour
One egg
1T finely chopped fresh herbs
and/or 1T olive oil (if you are using fresh herbs, you often don't need the oil)

Mix herbs with flour. Make well in middle of flour. Experts do this on the work surface, but I use a bowl.

Break egg into well, and add oil, if desired. With fingers, mix flour into the liquids, breaking yolk.

The dough will look a little like pie dough - kinda crumbly. You can add a little water if necessary, but don't add any more than a drop at a time.

Using your fingers, continue to mix dough until it starts to form a ball. It shouldn't be sticky.

Knead for several minutes on a lightly floured surface (I use a sieve with flour in it) to make a smooth, elastic dough. You can also use a dough scraper or the flat of a spatula to scrape the sticky stuff off the work surface.

Cover with plastic, or put into a ziplock bag with the air squeezed out and let the dough rest for a hour.

Knead lightly (not too much, or you'll get tough noodles), and separate into small portions. Put through pasta attachment and you have your own gourmet pasta for a fraction of the cost of store-bought!

You can also use spinach juice (from cooking fresh or from frozen spinach), beet juice, etc. to color the pasta for fun (and some additional nutrition).

If you don't have a pasta machine, you can simply roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, and use a knife to cut "kluski" noodles like my grandmother used to. But this dough is VERY springy, so it takes some effort to roll out by hand.

I know, it doesn't SOUND easy. But you will get the hang of it if you are willing to try it.

Oh, and fresh pasta only takes 2 minutes or so to cook - do a couple of test pieces if you are unsure.

The pasta can be dried, refrigerated, or frozen if not used right away.

P.S. I'm an insufferable bargain hunter, too. I got this from my good friend, who found 2/3 light leaded glass double exterior steel doors for $162. Originally $1200, they were a special order return. He bought them because he knew he'd find SOMEONE who needed them. They fit perfectly into my already framed opening, and I got my "dream doors" about 5 years earlier than I thought!!

Cindy La Ferle said...

Fabulous piece, Jody -- and wow, I sure can relate to everything you expressed so cleverly here. Thanks for your courage in posting this.