Saving Your Money and Your Health: The Prelude

Law school is a stressful place. I guess that goes without saying, but I thought I'd be able to handle it with no problems. After all, I've survived many an all-nighter during my undergrad years. Unfortunately, it became clear that my days of running on 2-5 hours sleep on a regular basis must come to an end. This last semester was the toughest I've ever had in my life; my grades for once reflected the amount work I put in, and they came at a very high cost. I went through the last 5 weeks of school feeling miserable, and things have only gotten worse since. Last week I found out that stress, in conjunction with other factors, made me sicker than I thought was possible. Now, it's very difficult just to get through the day, much less concentrate on getting my school work done. As a result, I'm falling behind really quickly, and it's only the 4th week of the semester!

As you can see, stress may incur enormous economic costs, both in terms of medical care and lost productivity. Hence, investing a little in a good preventative care program now will result in big returns in the long run. I decided to do a 3-part series during my study breaks in the coming weeks. Part I will cover food, part II will focus on gyms, and the series will wrap up with health insurance concerns. Please bear with the snail's pace of updates (not that I was ever good about posting frequently), as I'm sick, tired because I can't have coffee, and have assignments out the wazoo in February.

In the meantime, good health to you all!

The New Luella Bartley Line at Target: Things to Pick Up When They Get Marked Down

Just thought I'd comment on the new Luella Bartley line at Target. I've always been lukewarm about the Issac Mizrahi products--love the shoes, but the clothes are just not for me. The Fiorucci stuff were just not my thing either. Hence, even with the existence of rave reviews and rapt anticipation of the Luella Bartley collection by various web outlets, I was a bit skeptical about the hype. After seeing part of the collection in person today, I have to say that I'm quite impressed!

I'm a sucker for puffed-sleeve tops, so it's no wonder I fell in love with this t-shirt. The zipper has a little heart, and the fabric felt pretty good. I'm not quite willing to pay $14.99 for it, but the price is certainly very affordable.

I was also very impressed by this blazer. Tres chic! I found that everything Issac Mizrahi seems to run big, at least for me, so it was refreshing to see a blazer that comes in a true XS. The edges of the button are red, orange (I think), and green, respectively counting from top to bottom. The fabric felt pretty luxurious, as opposed to the stiffness and wrinkly-ness of some IM blazers. At $40, it's much too steep for me, so I'll be lying in wait. I won't be able to make another trip to Target for another month, but hopefully there'll be something left for me then. Navy blue is nice and classic, but for the more adventurous fashionista, a bolder version is available. I would never be able to pull that off, but it looked great on the store-poster models.

I really loved the yellow hobo...lots of room inside, very bright and bold, but not too challenging to pair with outfits. At $35, it's waaaaay too pricey for me (remember that I'm the type of person who waits till bags are in single-digit territory). The $30 apple canvas sling is much less utilitarian (looks like dual purpose laundry/punching bag to me) but no less adorable; it's probably more suitable for someone who is more adventurous with street style.

The Target I went to doesn't have a whole lot of stuff; maybe it's still early and not all the products are introduced in stores. In the meantime, you can look at the website and ogle at all the wonderful accessories that may land in the brick-and-mortar near you very soon (I particularly like the cuffs). However, remember to control yourself: you probably don't need the stuff NOW, so wait until it's 30% off before indulging. If things run out quickly at your local store, try another one in (I hate to say this) a more low-income area. Please don't misconstrue this as snobbery, as I grew up in a low-income household (and I'm damn proud of my community). There are a couple of reasons why low income areas may still have popular items: 1) Target prices are still high for most of us, even when things are on "sale," and 2) generally speaking, people are not as concerned about designer fashion as those in more affluent locales. This is simply based on my observations of the Target I usually go to and the ones in neighboring middle-class towns. Unfortunately, these facts speak to greater social problems that I'm not going to get into (particularly bullying in high school, where many unpopular kids are made fun of because they're poor and/or don't wear "cool" clothes). This blog isn't about social commentary (I've got my friends and another blog for that), but I hope that as much fun as you have with "obsessing" over fashion, take some time to reflect on more important things.


It Pays to Wait: Target

What a difference a week makes!

I went to Target last week, hoping to score some shoes. While commiserating over how the shoe aisles were picked clean, I came across a lovely metallic green satchel that was exactly what I have been looking for: cute and spacious enough for a sweater but not too bulky. Alas, it was still somewhere in the $10-15 range; with recent unexpected expenses (and an expensive ski trip coming up), I decided it wasn't worth it at the time. I don't go to Target often enough to get a feel for their price-reduction schedule, but since there was a relatively large quantity of the bags, I decided it was safe to wait at least another week.

It paid off in a big way.

I didn't expect prices to plummet in a week, but that's exactly what happened. The bag ended up being $6.24, leaving me with enough cash to buy a few other things that I needed. The few dollars I saved really went a long way. I was also amazed by some home goods that went to 75% off...I've seen such big reductions at Target before, but they are never this prominently advertised. Some stylish Michael Graves lamps dropped to $6-20, depending on the style. I saw other lamps for $4--better than Ikea lamps of equivalent price. There were other great deals too, but I just can't remember right now.

Here's the bottom line: if your coveted item is in sufficient quantities that it won't be likely to run out within a week, AND you have enough time to make another trip, just wait another week. You'll get a lot more for those few dollars saved. However, if there's only a few left, you really want it, and you're willing to pay that price, just take it. Yes, it'll probably get marked down further, but the odds of you being the one to score is slim.


Shopping From Your Closet

Buying into the vintage craze? Well, there are ways you can join the craze without the buying part. Start by looking in your own closet. That's right, Ms. (or Mr.) I-Have-Nothing-To-Wear: you may have cool-again old clothes buried somewhere in your closet, in a suit case, in storage, or many cases, at your parents' house. Another source of vintage is your parents' closet. As hard as it may be to believe, your parents were young and hip once. They followed trends, some of which have been revived. However, in my opinion, trends come and go for a reason--some trends vanish more quickly than others because they were bad ideas in the first place. Hence, you may need some creativity to rework old pieces to give them a modern twist. You can see how these two principles operate in the following anecdote:

My roommate recently started wearing some cool clothes that I haven't seen her wear before; as it turns out, they used to be her mom's. That inspired me to dig for my old clothes at my parents' house. I wasn't at all fashionable back in the day, but there were a few key pieces that got lots of compliments on; those were the pieces I was looking for. I didn't have time to dig very deep, but I found a long black vest I haven't worn since high school. Vests are back nowadays, so I decided to take advantage of the situation. I was never into vests that much--just wore them because my mom said they looked good on me--and after I buttoned up the vest in the present day, I came to realize that I still don't like them. However, I found a way to rework it into a fitted long tunic using a brooch. Now, that's an outfit I approve of.

When you dig through your closet, you should perform a concomitant function: permanent purging. If you've rediscovered something you love right away, run with it--wash it, create new outfits with it, put it on a hanger for easy access. However, while some old clothes can be saved, others should go gently into the night. How do you tell when to give that old pair of pants the ax? Think about why you kept the piece hidden in the first place. Is it because you never liked it in the first place? Take a look at it now--if you still don't like it, chances are you never will. That should go into the donation bin. If things are really tattered, don't throw it into the trash just yet. If it's cotton (e.g., socks and shirts), save it--it's always good to have a bag of rags hanging around, especially for routine cleaning and plumbing disasters. Old t-shirts and pants are also great as prototypes for DIY projects (such as stenciling; I'll write about it sometime in the future). If there are interesting prints or appliques on clothes that are declared unwearable, you might also want to cut those out prior to disposal; they may be good for simple DIY projects in the future. If you're lukewarm about it, put it aside but in a visible place; if you put it back in the location from whence they came, they'll continue to be ignored and, worse yet, take up valuable space. Think about ways you can update the piece with layering and accessories, like the way I handled my vest, or maybe even a trip to your tailor. If you can rework an old piece to your liking, great; if not, it's time to let it go.

If you need help reworking old pieces, get some ideas from fashion magazines/websites/blogs. One of my favorites is StyleDiary. The editorial articles are great, but my favorite feature is the massive collection of personal fashion diaries posted by ordinary people, demonstrating how they wear their clothes to go about their everyday business. I'm always amazed by different styles from around the world. So many people got their clothes from thrift/vintage stores (or their moms, sisters, and friends) and whipped up incredibly stylish outfits. I even get inspired by outfits that I personally would never wear. Once you take a look, you'll understand why looking fashionable doesn't necessitate spending.


Planet Lulu loft sale in Hollywood

After feeling unimpressed about the last Planet Lulu online sale, I had some reservation about going to the loft sale in Hollywood. The pros: not too far from where I live, there's a "large" parking lot where I could park for free (which is almost impossible to find in Hollywood), and it's fairly close to the Hollywood/Highland MTA Red Line station (great if I didn't feel like driving). The cons: who knows if the lot is "large" enough to accommodate all the shoppers? How good are the deals? I certainly don't want to get there only to circle like a vulture for anyone who is leaving. If things are going to be expensive, then it's not worth going no matter how close it is. I have lots of things I need to do, and I know that shopping takes at least a couple of hours. In the end, I thought it's best to go now, when it's early in the semester and I don't have that much schoolwork to worry about. Going against my instincts, I decided to drive there. I'd rather circle a little while for parking or even pay for it than to walk 5 blocks to the Metro station, wait maybe 20 minutes for a train, tack on more time for the ride, and then spend another 10 walking to my destination.

My gamble paid off. The sale was held at the United Methodist Church a block from Hollywood/Highland, and there's a good sized lot with plenty of compact spaces. There weren't as many shoppers as I thought, and when I got inside, I found out that it's an anomaly indeed--the people who worked there were expecting a crazier scene. The sale started at 10am, but I got there around 11 because I didn't wake up as early as I hoped. Even though it wasn't "crazy," there was a lot of people. Aisles were narrow and people were squished in between. There were racks of 213 and a mix of Picalina, Park Vogel, Ella Moss, Abaete, designer yogawear (can't remember the brands), Scanty pj's, a few Lily McNeals, etc. Tables along the wall had kids clothes, t-shirts, flipflops, handbags, and jeans--lots of Oligo Tissew, a smattering of 575, Grass, Blue Cult. I picked up a pair of really cute Mella flipflops for $11--a bit overpriced for flipflops, but then again that's how much you'd pay at places like PacSun if you were shelling out full price, and it's better quality too. Other than that, I didn't find anything impressive on the first pass. Things were either not in my size, not my style, still too expensive for cheap ol' me, or the cheap price is synonymous with cheap look/quality. Was it a mistake to come here? Nonetheless, I stuck around. This was a chance to try out different sizes of different brands of jeans, then look for them on eBay later.

There was a communal dressing area enclosed by curtains, so no one had to try on clothes between aisles and cause even more congestion. The dressing area was bordering on crazy, as tons of clothes were abandoned and newcomers try to find a spot to get naked. The people who worked the event came around regularly to collect things that people didn't want, which was nice; mounds only exist because the workers are outpaced by customers who didn't clean up after themselves. There was a bunch of your standard $5 from Kmart/Target/wherever cheap mirrors around for people to admire themselves.

After I got out of the dressing area, I made a second pass through the racks and the unwanted items hanging next to the dressing area. By then most people were gone, so the scene was no longer chaotic. Indeed, my "second pass strategy" worked. I figured that during my first pass--when customer traffic was at its peak--most things would be taken off the racks even though people weren't buying them. At the time of my second pass, most items would have been hung back on the racks. I was really loading things up on my arms--a pair of size 24 Joe's priced $13.99(!), size 24 Citizens of Humanity cords, a Mason skirt, a Joie skirt, a pair of Alice+Olivia pants, size 2 Frankie B jeans marked $29, more jeans and pants, then I ran back into the dressing area. I literally had to squeeze into the Joe's but alas, after buttoning up, there was a huge gap at the waist. If it fits, it would have been a really good deal. The Frankie B's and COH cords didn't fit either (it didn't have a tag, but I'm assuming it also would have been a great deal). The only thing I retained out of the pile was a fun pair of Alice+Olivia pants. At $30 (from original retail of $170, which was then reduced a couple of times for sales at various places), it exceeds my usual $20 limit on pants, but a) it's hard to find pants that fit, and b) I didn't have a pair of black pants that weren't dress pants, so I let it slide. The pants were really long, but I think I'll either fold up the hem or shorten myself. I'm not willing to spend another $10 on the tailor. Besides, the pants are black, so mishaps won't be apparent.

I don't think I'll go to another Lulu sale, at least in the near future. To be fair, the prices are pretty good for designer clothes, but I can get much better deals at sample sales. What I liked is that there are certain gems for certain people (particularly those who can fit into size 24's comfortably); there were some 213 samples under $15, but I was just not interested in them. Hence, Lulu sales are best for those who don't have the opportunity to go to sample sales held on weekdays. If you go, bring a few friends with you: some of the Oligo Tissew jeans were 3 for $99, which is really good for designer jeans.

Addendum: For those of you who stumbled onto my blog while googling for "Planet Lulu," here's the hyperlink to what you're really looking for. Hope that helps!


Sales galore

If you've spent too much money lately and wish to cut back, put blinders on and stop staring at this post. Don't let this tempt you. Practice self restraint. Make yourself sick of shopping somehow. Go clean or something.

If you're ready to shop AND in LA, read the text in its entirety below. If you're not from LA, skip to the last paragraph.

There are several sales of note this weekend. One of them is Planet LuLu. Although I've browsed through the online sale and things weren't very appealing to me, their clothes are still heavily discounted. They'll be having their loft sale in Hollywood this Saturday, but it's invite only and invites go out tomorrow. If you're interested, get on their mailing list pronto. I don't know if things will be better than the online selection, but at least you'll get to try them on. I haven't decided if I'll go; there are certain things I need (yes, need, not merely want) to buy, but with rising gas prices, I'm not sure I want to drive out there, struggle with parking, then endure lots of pushing and shoving.

ABS will be having a parking lot sale starting 8am on Saturday. Given what I've been through at the BCBG warehouse sale, I'm not sure I want to struggle again. Besides, my wallet really wants to take it easy. Anyways, for you brave souls out there who are ready to rumble, go to BargainsLA.com for more details. That's how I find out about the good sales in the LA area.

And of course, when stores in the malls near you are welcoming Spring lines, that can only mean one thing: the winter duds have to go. They won't be there long, especially because the prices will be at the lowest points by now, so go now.


Random Roundup

I've lost an interest in shopping lately, which is great for my wallet. However, that also means I didn't have much inspiration to blog. I should have written these down last week, but what the heck, better late than never:

1) Take advantage of store closing sales at The Limited. To my disappointment, my favorite store location has already closed, and another one I visited last week is doing their final round of closeouts. What a shame--I've long depended on The Limited for their great clearance merchandises, featuring both work- and party-worthy staples. In the past, I've gotten great tops for $5-8 (sometimes $10), cool jewelry for a few bucks, and skirts for under $20. I don't know if they're keeping a few locations open or closing everything, but either way, I won't have access to those stores anymore. I guess I'll still find the merchandise at Ross, but that's about it.

2) Taking good care of your clothes now will save you lots of money in the long run. Right now Le Target can help you accomplish those goals. Even though a lot of things there aren't exactly cheap, I like their limited-time $1 special offers of miscellaneous knicknacks. I guess it's their brick-and-motar version of the Red Hot Shop. When I was there 2 weeks ago, they capitalized on the "get organized" bullet point on many peoples' New Year's Resolutions. There were lots of little jewelry boxes, earring trees, and miscellaneous laundry supplies like coathangers, tie and belt hangers, suit bags, mesh laundry bags, and sweater de-fuzzers (or whatever you call them). All of them were only a dollar each! I hope there's still some left, since I want to get more hangers and door hooks.

For me, "hand wash only" means throw them in a mesh bag and into the washer. The bags keep your clothes from getting entangled with other items (such as jeans) and getting stretched in the process. However, don't get too carried away; use reasonable judgment. If your clothes are really delicate, you're better off to just hand-wash them. The "hand wash only" items I throw into the washer are knits, wovens, and undies. I have no time to hand-wash stuff that I wear regularly, and if they're tough enough to withstand agitation, there's no sense in wasting time on them. Jersey cottons have held up really well when they're washed in this protected way.

Everyone has favorite sweaters that could have been worn for a little while longer but for the fuzzballs that are all over the surface. De-fuzzing can give them new life. I have a sweatercoat and a really old Express wool sweater that were decimated by pilling, and I was about to just replace them with new stuff. I knew that defuzzers existed, but they are usually found in Asian stores that take effort to get to and I'm a lazy person. I was so happy to see the defuzzers for just a $1 at Target and snatched one up immediately. Operation is simple: just pop in a couple of AA batteries, remove the plastic cap covering the grill, turn it on, and lightly go over the surface. You'll see fuzzballs instantly disappear. As you continue to depill the sweater, the blades will slow down and even stop when fibers wrap around them or get stuck in the center. Remove the grill, use the brushes supplied with the defuzzer to clean it out. Dump out the fuzzballs collected in the clear plastic receptacle. At the end, you'll see a marked before-and-after difference; my sweatercoat looks almost new again, and while my Express sweater didn't recover as miraculously, I'm no longer ashamed to wear it outside of my house.

A couple of caveats with the defuzzer. First, some side effects may occur. It is possible for fibers from perfectly good regions to get snagged, thereby creating a hole in your sweater (this happened with all 3 sweaters, with varing degrees of severity as explained below). Consult your instincts wisely. I see defuzzing as a way to save really old sweaters on the brink of being tossed, so I would strongly advise against using the defuzzer for routine maintenance of newer sweaters. To minimizes the possibility of unwanted holes, keep the defuzzer to the surface instead of pushing it down into the sweater. Second, the defuzzer appears to perform poorly on cotton sweaters. The fibers don't seem to be as strong, so when fibers get snagged, it is much more likely to get holes. Additionally, the fuzzballs on cotton sweaters don't get picked up as cleanly as wool or acrylic fibers.

Risks aside, I think the defuzzer is a really good tool. Although it caused a couple of small holes in my sweatercoat and wool-blend sweater, the holes were small and could be fixed easily. Besides, the benefits of looking like new again greatly outweighs the annoyance of little holes. However, I'm disappointed with what the defuzzer did to my cotton sweater. That's my 2 cents, so do what you will with them.


To Heck with "Dry Clean Only" (again)

Since I'm broke from Christmas and my wardrobe updates, I ignored the "dry clean only" tags on 4 items (3 of which had been sitting in my laundry tub for a couple of months) and washed them by hand. Now I start to see why designers, via the label, recommend that big dresses made of synthetic fibers should be sent off to the cleaners, but that doesn't mean I'll follow directions. What I had to do was to find a way to deal with the problems created by my stubborness.

The first thing I washed was a dress made with a considerable amount of fairly stiff synthetic fiber fabric (no tags on the composition). Though I can understand why it shouldn't go into the washing machine (the ribbon trim may get destroyed), I saw no reason (e.g., shrinkage) why a dress made from synthetic polymers shouldn't be dunked into water. Into the tub it went. Water turned red--no biggie, the dye comes out from a lot of things. But when I was done, the dress was a beast to handle. It was really heavy! Water clung to the fabric and simply didn't let go even after rigorous wringing. I hung it up on the showerhead to drip dry a little bit, but it became apparent that it wasn't feasible; the dress was so heavy that it might rip the showerhead off, and the shoulders of the dress might get misshapened by the hanger. Since it was too drippy and heavy to move onto my drying rack, I decided to bust out my blowdryer to help shed some of the excess weight. Took about 15 minutes, but it worked! So there you have it--a new use for your blowdryer. People who don't want to deal with the aforementioned hassles may want to take dresses like this to the cleaner, but I'm more willing to put in the time than pulling out my wallet. I think I might use the same procedure to clean my a poofy party dress. However, I will not wash my suits at home because they're just too expensive to risk it.

You may recall that in my post on washing cashmere sweaters, I had a caveat on washing silks. Well, I threw caution out to the wind this time. The next 3 items were silk, and I washed the 2 matching items (top and skirt) at once to save time. In retrospect, that was a mistake--I should have washed the one that can afford to be shrunken first in order to test it out. I used a couple of drops of baby shampoo and very cold water. Back in the day when I was working toward the common good as a techie, I had to do all my protein work in the 4 degree Celsius cold room because the cold keeps the proteins from denaturing. Since silk is a protein, I applied the same principles to prevent shrinkage. The colder the water, the better--other than a few good twirls, your hands won't be in the water for long anyway. When I was done washing, the top was really heavy, and the skirt was worse. For both pieces, I gently squeezed out just enough water so that the top/skirt stops dripping; don't wring because silk chiffon wrinkles very easily. Then, I laid it on a towel for a blot-drying session. The remaining water came out very easily, then I laid it on the rack to air dry. Both pieces dried without incident or wrinkles, and neither shrunk.

Washing the last piece was an interesting experience. It's a 12th Street by Cynthia Vincent long cami/tunic that I got from the FIDM Scholarship Store for $10 yesterday (amazing price and worth breaking my New Year's Resolution for, isn't it?). No problems with shrinkage, but I didn't wash it for long because I saw a lot of glitter coming off. Moral of the story? Pay attention to the embellishments. If the piece is fairly small, really thin, and have no stains, a quick wash and rinse (less than 5 minutes) should get the sweat and dust off without taking off much glitter. However, if the piece is very glitz and glam, pretty sizable and/or if there are big stains, you might be better off to just pony up to the dry cleaning bill. Silks are generally pricey and you want to protect your investments.


Learning to Haggle

Although I've been really good at scoring inexpensive goodies, I must confess that I'm a beginner when it comes to haggling. Why? As a veteran attacker of retail store clearance racks, I haven't had the need or opportunity to haggle much. There's not much room for haggling when it comes to retail chains unless it's a damaged piece, and the prices are often so low that there's really no reason to haggle. However, that all changed in the past 6 months. When I started shopping at sample sales, I learned that prices are negotiable. When I had to buy a second-hand fridge that was cheap but was definitely not in great shape, I had to talk down the price.

Even when the need and opportunity to haggle arose, I was a bit hesitant. My parents do it all the time and have no qualms about it, but I was held back by a false sense of propriety or decorum, if you will. Somehow I felt embarassed about challenging the price--I was afraid that I'll be bad at it, ask for too low a price, and be laughed off the block. Other times I'd think of haggling as somewhat "declasse," in the sense that it makes a person come across as being really cheap in a really bad way, like someone who is ignorant about "the system" of non-negotiable retail. I came to realize that I was being silly. There's nothing wrong with haggling--the worse that could happen is that your offer is rejected and you'd have to pay for the listed price, and there's nothing "declasse" about it, since businesspeople do it all the time.

My first steps to haggling were small, started with slightly damaged merchandise. I got this one plush stool from Ross, which is composed of 4 legs and a seat shaped as the face of a cat. I really liked it, though it was more expensive than I'd like and had a messed-up whisker (which was sewn into the seat). I knew that I can take out the threads and sew in new whiskers fairly easily, so I decided to ask for a discount. I expected 10%, maybe 15%, but I ended up getting 20%. That really left a mark on how I shop. Of course I'd avoid damaged merchandise when at all possible, but if I'm buying stuff for myself but it's the last one (in my size) and I can't find an undamaged counterpart, I'd go the damaged merchandise discount route. I'm willing to buy clothes with small holes along the seams, but I'm not willing to buy knits with snags or anything with stains. Snags are hard to fix by yourself, or you'd have to pay someone to do it, with no guarantees that it'll look presentable upon repair. As for stains--you don't know what it is (ick) or how hard it will be to remove them.

When I moved on to sample sales, I observed a few things: salespersons are willing to haggle when you reach the $30 mark, if you're nice to them, if you're paying with cash, and if you ask for a reasonable percentage compensurate with how much you're buying. If you're unsure how to proceed beyond the realm of damaged goods, just pay attention to how other people do it. That's how I learned.

-Based on my experiences, people are not willing to lower the price until you hit $30. If you're close, like $28, try to shoot for $25. However, it's not a hard-and-fast rule, especially if all the merchandise is pricier than $30. If you're hitting a ritzier place, you may need to adjust slightly upwards.

-When you're paying cash, sometimes it's hard to give you change. If you're able to offer a nice round number whereupon salespeople won't have to hassle with counting cash, they're more inclined to go with your offer.

-What I meant by a "reasonable percentage" is this: if you're spending $30, don't expect to get $10 off. The less you spend, the less you can get taken off, so if you do spend $30, expect no more than a dollar or 2. The higher you go, the more you can ask for--if you're buying a $50 pair of jeans, you can try to get $45, and so on.

-If you aren't spending that much money, you can still flex your bargaining muscles at checkout. If you've treated the staff with respect while your were rummaging through the sales racks, you might be able to round down to the nearest $5. Additionally, even if most pieces are expensive to begin with and you only bought the cheapest stuff, multiple cheap things = illusion of buying lots ("collective barganing" can be a powerful thing). Both of those factors helped me out at a sale I went to recently. Most items of clothing on "sale" were $40. My total was $43 but was composed of things that were under $20. Instead of haggling on individual pieces, which by all accounts were already "cheap," I waited until the grand total before asking "can we do $40?" Yes, that's the lingua franca of bargaining. Repeat after me: Can we do (fill in the blank)? Very quick, easy, and casual. If they say no, all you have to do is say "that's fine" or "I don't think I'll take it." Who knows? Sometimes you putting stuff down might get them to say "OK, let's do (your amount here)."

-A corollary to the last point: if you're buying a single "big-ticket" item along with a few cheap things, it's probably better to get a reduction on that big-ticket purchase than an overall reduction. It won't make you look cheap because you're trying to get a discount on just one thing, and besides, it won't be likely for you to get a much bigger discount for the little things anyway. Conversely, if you're buying cheap stuff, use the "collective bargaining" method above.

Most recently, my fridge crapped out right before Finals (yes, lucky me, again. Last year it was my car). Since me and my roommate are students, we don't have much money. Most used fridges on Craig's List were $150 and up, and we certainly couldn't afford to get a new one (at least $400). When we saw a listing for $50, I dropped all my plans and went to see it the next day with my roommate, even though we knew that something must be up. Something was up all right, namely the contents of my stomach. The fridge was older than the one that just broke down, and had its own self-contained ecosystem. There were dead flies and green stuff and yellow stuff everywhere. I couldn't believe that people had put food in that thing. I was about to turn away when the seller offered to let us clean the inside with a hose. Well, as long as I don't have to deal with the grossness at home in a small, confined space, I'm OK with that. The seller ended up doing a lot of the cleaning and offered supplies for us to scrub out concentrated spots of nastiness. Before we got down to the serious cleaning, I asked the seller if we can do $40 and he readily agreed. Even though it was really not worth $40, I didn't go lower because he was so nice in helping us clean. So, kindness really cuts both ways in the transaction. It would have been unreasonable to ask for a further reduction after what he did for us. However, this anecdote also illustrates what we've known all along: the asking price is always higher than what the seller aims to get because sellers expect haggling to take place. If you don't haggle, the seller gets a windfall.

That's it for now, folks!