Sometimes you find frugal shopping and other times it finds you. Typically in the past I would simply quickly shop for anything that we needed at the closet store handy. And if I happen to have a coupon or catch something on sale, I gave myself a little self-punch on the shoulder a la Breakfast Club nerd style.
This week with funds being tight, I set out to find costumes for our kids Christmas pageant on the cheap. What I learned along the way was a few ideas and lessons.
Our daughter’s costumes were easy as I called a few friends whose own daughter’s were a year older. Yep, they still had the dresses from last year hanging in the same bags they were put in after the pageant last year. A little light steaming, fluffing, and one safety pin, and she was good to go.
Our son, on the other hand, like himself, proved to be a bit more work. It seems that in any theater-related activity or group, there is always a shortage of boys compared to girls. I needed two special shirts and one pair of black dress pants. The pants should be easy, right? They are simple, nothing special, and should be everywhere with the holiday season coming up. I could not have been more wrong.
The shirts were easy to find as I once again called another mom whose son performed last year and she was more than happy to dig them out of her closet and get rid of them. The pants….now that took me on a bit of a trip.
Plain, simple, black dress pants – easier than ordering a coffee at Starbucks. But every store I went to either had pants a) not in his size, b) were cords, c) wrong color, d) had designs on them to match their outfit, e) were part of ensemble that was outrageously priced, or f) the pants themselves were outrageously priced. Finally after trooping through six stores, I came across a pair of black, simple dress pants at H&M for $24.95.
But I felt guilty. Instead of feeling this euphoric high of finally finding this apparently rare artifact, I felt like I had destroyed the weekly family budget with a single “ding” of the cash register. And if you had read the previous post, you know my husband’s true feelings for dress clothes and can imagine his reaction.
I had one more thought but knew that the chances of finding what I needed and in the specific size was slim to none. Digging through my purse, I brought my red wallet up for air. Buried in one of the many pockets were two red cards labeled “Children’s Orchard.” Years ago I tried to sell my children’s slightly used clothes and shoes. I was so sure that I was going to come away with a tall stack of currency after they have seen the wonderful and cute stuff I had. But on that fateful day I had to suffer the embarrassment of a teen girl cracking gum while pointing out to me every stain, small rip, and worn leather on the clothes and shoes and declare loudly the outfits as “out of date.” I don’t remember what she actually did take or how much credit, if any at all, were on the card. Or maybe there was credit on the card but too much time had gone by for it to still be valid.
After work I made a special trip across town in the car rattling with obvious deer damage (that story is coming soon) to arrive at front door of a consignment store. The same store that a few years ago wounded my pride a bit as a laundress and mother of clean children wearing the latest fashions. The store was lit up with holiday outfits, shoes, and toys so I felt a bit of hope and quickly strolled about to find the correct size rack. Nope, nope, nope, nada, zip, ewww, nope, sigh. The few pants that were hanging up were once again wrong size, color, or material. As I was about to relive the memory of the last time I walked out of those doors, I felt a surge of energy to not let this trip be in vain! My eyes went up the wall and it hit me, almost all of the cutest holiday outfits were on display, not on the racks! A quick stroll around the store had me studying each boy outfit to determine the type of pants and size. And finally, there it was – a pair of quite possibly plain, black dress pants in size 4T. The sales clerk climbed a small ladder to bring down the stick figurine dressed in black pants and purple sweater with a train chugging on its midriff. Yes, they were black and they were plain and they were dress pants so then the million dollar question is what size are they? I am pretty sure I hugged the pants to myself and did a poor attempt of a pirouette in the aisle. And the price tag – $3.99 – was never going to escape my clutching hands of happiness.
The final pièce de résistance was the gift card. Would it work? Was there any credit on it? A slip of the card through the machine revealed that $13.68 was waiting to be spent. The pants were mine, safely tucked away in a bag and I began a happy walk out the door.
Wait a minute!! Out of the corner of my eye I spied a section of dance clothes with pairs of tiny black ballet slippers lined up on a rack. There in the middle was a pair, the perfect size and the perfect low price that is half of what I was prepared to pay for. Once again the gift card was swiped and the ballet slippers joined the pants in the shopping bag now securely wrapped around my wrist.
I was able to leave the store with my head held high while silently thanking that one day when I spent hours folding clothes and collecting shoes into a large laundry basket, only to have all of my flaws pointed out. Everything happens for a reason and I so needed this moment to happen!
The H&M pants went back to the store and the $24.95 was refunded. And that night I dug through the rest of my purse to see what other archaeological treasures would be found. In the end there was a quarter cup of loose change, random expired coupons, a small stack of restaurant lunch cards with points toward free lunches and one card even had the points needed to let me have the next lunch for free. Not exactly the lottery but definitely worthy of the ten minutes it took me to clean and organize my purse. At least now I can answer the TV every time it asks me, “what’s in your wallet?”
Well, in my wallet is a couple of maxed out credit cards, the debit card that gets used way too much, some grocery store rewards things and our insurance cards. That type of excitement can hardly be contained within a simple leather-bound wallet. Please notice the lack of cash.
Here lies the big difference here between me and my better-looking half. I have no patience for this kind of shopping. I would have gone into Target, Wal-Mart, and the local TJ Maxx and whatever I could find within a quick look-around in each store would be my treasure. The security cameras would have caught me walking with determination straight to the little boy’s section, aimlessly wondering around for about four minutes, and then walking out empty-handed. The first pair I would find, probably at Wal-Mart for $12.95 would have been the winner and I had spent a whole half-hour. Considering they were half the price of the H&M, it would have been S-C-O-R-E.
But, as you have read, Diane did a much better job. She found the pants, shoes I did not even realize he needed, and a few other things that didn’t cost us a cent. Yes, it took a little more time, more digging, and a few extra trips. But, when the bank account is starting to dip into the single digits, our time and efforts are free by comparison. Given what she found, our bank account went down by exactly by $0 dollars.
So, let me expand on this topic a little bit more. Ever come home toward the end of the pay period and try to figure what the family of four is going to have for dinner? We will hit the pantry, freezer, fridge and anything else and can always come up with a meal that will work. Yes, it might be pancakes for supper, or three different combinations of soup, or, our son’s favorite, peanut butter and jelly on hamburger buns. It’s basically the same thing…a need, a solution, and $0 from our checking account. And, we are one step closer to payday and eating again like a normal family. But, the S-C-O-R-E is that we didn’t dip into the credit cards, savings account, or anything else and used whatever we had on hand. Was it pheasant under glass or thick-cut steaks? No, but that isn’t the solution that our solution calls for.
Would you have been a Diane or a Jack in this situation? :-)