Thrifty Thursdays Fridays

I’ve got a riddle for you: What do the following objects in the pictures have in common?

Any guesses?

Still stumped?

What if I told you that not only did I get everything here at thrift stores, but every item was less than $15? Would you believe me? Well you should. As a college student, thrift stores are great for finding unique, well-made clothing and accessories for super cheap if you know where and how to look. Luckily, I’m here to help. I’ve been thrifting for about eight years, and any thrifter can tell you there is not better thrill than nabbing a great item for a few bucks (or in some cases a few cents). I’m going to be honest here, thrifting does take time and patience. It is not the most fun to sift through the land of misfit clothing. However, the rewards do pay off. Here a few of my favorite finds.

Dooney & Bourke Purse from Goodwill: $10

Vintage scarf from random PA thrift store: $8

That blue blazer in picture one? Thirty dollars cents. I would give you a close up shot, but it has a date with the dry cleaners later today.

If you have never been thrifting before, or, like many, gave up after setting eyes on the umpteenth 5K t-shirt, I’ve come up with a few rules/suggestions that will make you a pro thrifter in no time.

Thrifting Commandments:

1. Thou shalt not buy if thou does not absolutely love it. Just because the price is right, doesn’t mean the look is.

2. Thou shalt not be label-conscious. A big mistake for first timers. That $30 Burberry shirt? No one’s going to care if you got a huge deal on it. They’ll be too busy trying not to laugh at your hideous shirt.

3. Thou shalt not buy stained/hole-y/pill-y clothing. This should go without saying. I usually avoid buying sweaters as many are not in the best shape. But, if you’re looking for the perfect pair of worn jeans or a soft leather jacket? I’d say a thrift store should be your first stop.

4. Thou shalt try and try again. Like I said, thrifting takes time. You may not find what you are looking for the first, second or third time, but believe me you’ll strike gold soon enough.

5. Thou salt seek out unexpected areas/stores. Want to know a secret? Some my best finds came from small-town thrift stores. Many times stores in the city know how much they should charge, but a lot of the mom-and-pop joints sometimes pass over a diamond in the rough. My $0.30 blazer? I got in a $3 fill-you-bag sale in upstate New York.

6. Thou shalt haggle. I don’t know why more people don’t do this. Yes, it may seem annoying, but you can score some major deals this way. Because thrift stores set their own prices, they are more willing to make a deal. Buying a few items? Offer the lot for $20. Also, look for non-profit thrift stores. I’ve found they have offered me deals on purchases without me even asking!

7. Thou shalt do your research. This rule is mostly when purchasing a designer bag. Youtube, Ebay and Spotfakehandbags.com have great articles on how to spot a fraud.

Here are a few of my favorite thrift stores:

-The Goodwill: I have found that they offer a greater selection on designer bags and accessories. Also, their auction-based website has some great discount designer duds.

-The Salvation Army: Great for furniture and household goods. Also, my neighborhood salvation army always has half-off sales and a great selection of coats and leather belts.

-Non-Profit Thrift Stores: If you are looking for a well-tailored suit or brand-names, non-profits are usually the way to go.

Do you thrift? What was your favorite find? Let me know!

Never pay full price for a meal again. Ever. I mean it.

Alright, I’ve been keeping a secret from you. But before I tell you what it is, I want to say that I will never suggest a product or tip unless I  have tried it myself. A few months ago a friend suggested I try restaurant.com for discounted meals throughout the US.  I signed up for their mailing list and began receiving emails about 70, 80 and 90% off sales on gift certificates. One day I decided to just go ahead and buy a few. Since restaurant.com was having one of their 80% off sales, I wound up getting five $25 certificates for less than ten bucks. For months they just sat in my account, as I soon forgot about my purchase. However, the other day I decided to revisit the site and remembered my certificates! One of them was to Ann & Tony’s Restaurant right down the block from Fordham on Arthur Avenue.  My boyfriend and I were in the need of a fresh date-night spot, so we decided to use my certificate, and let me tell you was it worth it! When I bought the coupons, I was afraid that perhaps I might see some backlash from the restaurants for my bargain hunting ways. However, our waiter was great, professional, and even explained the discount on the check when it came! Although the coupon did have some stipulations: $50 minimum purchase, does not include alcohol, cash only (which is always a good idea anyway), we ended up saving $25 on what would have been a $70 dinner. Here’s what we got for $45.00

Fresh Mozzarella and Roasted Red Peppers

Fried Calamari

Cahill's Carbonara

My Penne Alla Vodka

I also had a glass of wine and Cahill decided on an Amstel Light. We were too full to even consider desert, although their red velvet cake did look tempting. Although not my favorite on Arthur Ave, Ann & Tony’s knows how to make a meal, and with our coupon, it was the perfect place for an affordable night out.

Here are a few tips when using Restaurant.com

-Join their mailing list. They every week or so they will notify you of upcoming sales. Their sales are usually between 50-80% off, although they just had a 90% off sale.

-Use Yelp or Urbanspoon to help you decide when buying your restaurant certificates. Some of the restaurants on Restaurant.com are not the best, so do your homework. It is better to spend more money on a restaurant you enjoy than save a few bucks and hate your meal.

-Read the fine print. I know I stressed this in my last post, but it is important to read the stipulations. Some restaurants require a party of four or more, and others, like Ann & Tony’s include an 18% automatic gratuity calculated before the discount.

-Always tip your server based on the full price of the meal without the discount. Frugal and cheap are two completely different things. Servers usually make most of their money in gratuities, so be sure to give them a fair tip.

***I know lately my posts have been food-oriented, but watch out for tomorrows post on thrifting! And coming soon, my experience at the Aveda Institute and my wardrobe challenge!

Affordable Sushi? Is it Possible?

My apologies for the lack of posts these last few days. I’ve been on a steady diet of Mucinex, Dayquil and cough drops for the past week. I thought I’d post a little restaurant review for my Fordham readers. My apologies for the lack of pictures but I was just too distracted by the great food! Even if you don’t live near Fordham, stay with me as there are some tips at the end!  Last Wednesday my friend Joanna and I went to our favorite Sushi place: Sake II and here is what happened!

Perhaps it’s the friendly waitress, quick service or addictive salmon crunch rolls, whatever it is, I simply cannot quit Sake II located in the Belmont section of the Bronx. On 187th and Belmont, the unassuming BYOB Sake II is an anomaly in a neighborhood famous for their Italian fare.  Serving sushi and Japanese food, the restaurant is THE place to find good-quality sushi that will please even the most modest of budgets. The service is friendly and fast, the food is great and the price, even better. Our last bill came to a whopping $19.92 for two drinks, an appetizer and four rolls.

A hole-in-the-wall is a reach when describing the size of Sake II. I am not going to lie to you, it is tight. With two tables and two counters, the restaurant can seat no more than sixteen at a time. However, it seems Sake II does a much larger takeout business so securing a table is never a problem. The decor and ambiance resembles that of a typical Asian takeout joint, complete with small figurines, flourescent lighting, bamboo plants and lanterns. A strange mix of late-nineties pop music plays quietly in the background, often prompting heated discussions regarding one of life’s greatest mysteries: Who was the greatest  boy band of all time?

What Sake II lacks in decor and ambiance, it makes up in its food and service. We were greeted by the friendly waitress. Seated immediately, she offered us the discount student menu and inquired if I was having the milk bubble tea, and my friend Joanna, a soda, as per usual. As for my bubble tea it was sweet, yet not overpowering, and the tapioca beads chewy and not mushy as can happen sometimes with bubble tea. The edamame we ordered came quickly, fresh and well-seasoned with sea salt. The sushi followed a bit too soon after, as we were barely halfway through the edamame. However, the sushi itself made up for the service blunder. Both Joanna and I had the popular sweet potato tempura roll. The sweet potato itself was cooked well, and the brown sauce topping added a complimenting salty-sweet flavor.  My other roll, the salmon crunch roll was heaven.  And although I cannot prove it, I believe the waitress gave special instructions to the sushi chef to plate my rolls in an alternating fashion. I always alternate my rolls and this was the first time they have been plated in that way. Joanna’s rolls were plated in the normal fashion, as roll clusters. Joanna also sampled the cucumber avocado roll. Although it was nothing special, you cannot beat the $2.95 price tag. The rolls come in six large pieces, and two is more than enough to satisfy an empty stomach. Throughout the meal the waitress was attentive and the bill, when requested came promptly without a wait.

Although Sake II may not be a fashionable sushi bar, its service, price and food, will definitely keep me coming back for more.

Budget-Friendly Restaurant Tips:

-Use sites like Groupon and LivingSocial to grab great  restaurant deals! Often they have restaurant gift certificates for over 50% off! Just read the fine print. Some certificates you can only use on weekends, there may be an automatic gratuity or alcohol is not included in the price.

-Before you go out, do some research. Yelp is a great resource to find great, cheap eats. However, don’t just trust the highest rated restaurant. Filter your results through most rated. A four star restaurant on Yelp with 160 reviews is probably better than the five star rated with only 3 reviews.

-INCLUDE TIP AND TAX IN YOUR BUDGET! That way you know how much you can ACTUALLY spend on your food selections.

-Look for places that offer a student discount. Even if it is 10% it is better than nothing!

-Also be on the hunt for lunch/dinner specials and Prix Fix menus. Often they include a drink, appetizer and main course. This is also a great way to try higher end restaurants without needing to find a second job.

-Go out for lunch! Like I said, oftentimes restaurants offer lunch specials and menus that are significantly cheaper than their dinner offerings.

-Go BYOB. Alcohol can destroy your dinner budget, so bring your own! Look on Yelp for BYOB’s. Also, call ahead and ask if there is a corking fee. Sometimes restaurants charge upwards of $15, it’s a complete rip off so if it is there, just save the booze for a nightcap when you get back.

Beauty and the Budget

Frenchie may have blown it in beauty school, but there are many talented students too

Beauty may be pain but it shouldn’t be costly. Many nice salons can charge $70+ for haircuts, not including color, $90 for facials and $30 for a simple manicure. So what is a college girl to do?

Well thankfully my equally frugal cousin Danielle gave me a great tip: beauty schools. Beauty schools around the country offer discounted rates on everything from manicures to highlights to facials in order for their students to practice on live models. And let me clarify, Frenchie is not going to be doing your hair. Many schools only allow their most experienced students on the floor. Additionally, their teachers are on the floor for any questions and corrections, and review their work upon completion.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Ever walk into a hair or nail salon and expect the Health Department to burst through the door any second? When you seek out cheap cuts and mani/pedis you run the risk of finding a place that may compromise your health.  I don’t know about you but I’m not willing to run the risk of getting staph and having to pay for a hospital visit because of a botched pedicure. Talk about unforeseen costs. In beauty schools, they take cleanliness very seriously.

If you are nervous about going to beauty schools for a big change like a new hair color or drastic cut, go in for a trim or a few highlights. If you don’t like the cut or color it will not be as noticeable, and oftentimes the instructor will be more than willing to fix it for you.  Or, if you’re like me and simply cannot bear the thought of cheating on your stylist, come in for a cheap manicure, makeup application or a massage.

In October I’ll be checking out the Aveda Institute in Manhattan.  I’m setting aside a bit of my budget for their thirty-minute twenty dollar facial . Keep a look out for my review in the next few weeks.

Tips:
-Do some research before you chose your beauty school. Yelp and other review websites often review beauty schools as well.  Be warned, you may get an array of different reviews because remember, the stylists are students and some are more talented than others.
-When booking an appointment, ask about the school’s policy. If you are unhappy with the results can you get a refund or will someone fix it? Do you take credit card or just cash? How long have the stylists been in school? Would you recommend anyone?
-Give yourself more time than usual for a service. The stylists are still students and may need advice from the instructor.
-If you get there and do not feel comfortable with the stylist, tell someone. Try to get another stylist if available. If changes can not be made consider leaving. It is better to spend more money and time on a great stylist and haircut than waste money on a haircut/color that you’ll have to get fixed anyway.
-Many times the instructor will ask you about your experience. Make sure to be honest. If you loved it be sure to point out why your stylist was so great. If you hated it, tell them in a calm way. Even if your stylist is within earshot, it is better for them to hear constructive criticism and learn from it now, than develop bad habits that will be hard to break in the future.
-If you love your stylists’ work, get her number! Many students and recent grads work out of their home for some extra cash. Their prices are regularly far cheaper than a salon so it’s a win-win for both of you!

Have you ever been to a beauty school for a service? Let me know!

Thrifty Thursdays

I loves clothes and shopping. Know who doesn’t? My bank account.You may have limited means in the financial department, but there’s no excuse to let your wardrobe reflect that. It just means you have to get creative and wander off the beaten trail.  Each Thursday I’ll feature a few great little numbers from some unlikely sources with every piece under $50 (and much, much less). This week’s finds are from the Haus of Kmart. Oh and they’re all less than $20 a pop.

shirt dress on sale $18.74

rt. 66 heart ring: $2.99

tunic top: $18.74

jaclyn smith bracelet: $15.00

Do you have any unexpected fashion sources? I’d love to know about them!

Frugal Food: Festivals

If you’re not careful, dining out in college is a surefire way to blow your weekly budget.  But who has the time/will/culinary skills to cook at home EVERY night? We’ll get to cheap, creative recipes soon, but if you’re like me and enjoy letting someone else do the cooking, sit and stay awhile.  I LOVE trying new restaurants and foods and ADORE saving money in the process (obviously). So where can you get outstanding food for cheap? Food fesitvals of course! Whether you’re in smalltown America or taking a bite out of the Big Apple, food festivals are a great way to grab some local grub and find out more about your community.  Sunday I had the pleasure of attending the Ferragosto Festival on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.  Sometimes referred to as the “Real Little Italy” of NYC, Arthur Avenue is lined with fantastic Italian restaurants, bakeries, butcher shops, delis and even a homemade pasta shop.  Enough with the tour guide schpeal, let’s get to the food! My family came down to celebrate and we ate our fill of homemmade mozarella, sausage and peppers, calamari and gelato. All for less than what we would spend at our local greasy spoon.  Here were a few of my Ferragosto favorites:

teitel bros. cheese wheels

cahill’s sausage and peppers from vincent’s meat market ($8)

peaches and wine ($5)

vincent’s grilling up their fresh sausages

my steak, peppers and onions sandwich with diet coke ($8)

A doo-wop group (they were great!)

A Few Frugal Festival Tips:

~Browse community websites, newspapers, event sites and social networks to find out about food festivals in your area.

~When manuevering your way through a food festival, it’s best to do a walk through or two before deciding what you want. If you simply start at the beginning you may miss out on some great finds.

~STICK TO A BUDGET! If you budgeted for ten dollars, only bring ten in cash that way you can’t spend anymore than you wanted to.  Also, most festivals only accept greenbacks.

~Once the money’s gone, enjoy the free entertainment rather than browsing the stands, you’ll be less likely to make unnecessary purchases.