Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Local Shopping Challenge: Highland Park on $1 a Day

When I successfully completed my first local shopping challenge last spring, I was so pleased with the outcome that I planned to come up with several more of them, possibly even making it a regular feature on the blog. Over time, however, I became a little less satisfied with the whole idea. For one thing, I found that the outfit I'd put together for the local shopping challenge, while acceptable, wasn't really ideal. The skirt and sweater were fine, but the camisole top I bought from the Rite Aid wasn't a very good fit, and I eventually ended up giving it away. So while the local shopping challenge helped me find two nice pieces for my wardrobe that I might not have bought otherwise, it also led me to throw away seven bucks on a top I didn't really need or like, just because I "needed" it for the challenge. (As it turned out, I found a tank top not long afterwards at a yard sale that fit much better and also looked better with the skirt, so if I hadn't been in a hurry to finish the challenge by April 30, I could have just waited and completed the look for under $10 instead of $17.)

So I made up my mind that if I did another local shopping challenge, it would have to be set up in a way that was more consistent with my ecofrugal mission. Instead of forcing me to buy something whether I needed it or not, it should help me find something I needed—or at least wanted—for as little money as possible. After all, it's not as if there's any shortage of bargains here in Highland Park; between the library, the wide assortment of community events, and the free samples often to be found at local stores, it's often possible to go out into town and treat yourself to a little something without spending a penny. Throw in the stuff at the thrift shop, grocery store, and dollar store, and there's an even wider variety of goodies to be found for $1 or less.

So that, I decided, would be my next challenge. For seven days in a row, I would venture out into town and bring back something costing no more than $1. (The nice thing about this rule is that there's no way the entire challenge can cost me more than $7.)

To keep it from being too easy, I set myself a few additional rules:
  1. Since the object is to avoid waste, the item I find must always be something I can actually use. It can be practical (e.g., a new shirt from the thrift shop) or purely decorative (e.g., a flower for the kitchen table), but it has to have real value to me. Bringing home a free copy of a booklet advertising used cars for sale and then throwing it straight in the recycling bin doesn't count.
  2. However, the item doesn't have to be tangible. If I go out in the evening to a free event at the library or the outdoor film series, that can count as my freebie for the day.
  3. Every day, I have to find something different. Bringing home seven different books from the library doesn't count. If I bring home a library book as my challenge item on Thursday, I'm still allowed to pick up another one on Friday, but I can't count it as part of the challenge.
  4. Each day, I have to write a new blog entry about my find, including a photo if possible, stating what the item cost, where I found it, and how it's useful for me.
Today's find was the new Healthy Ideas magazine from Stop & Shop (free). The supermarket puts out a new issue every season, filled with recipes, coupons, and tips for using different foods. I always pick up the latest version when it appears at our local Stop & Shop, and I almost find at least one recipe or idea in it that looks interesting. Paging through the fall issue, I found several items of interest:
  • An ad for Stop & Shop's "limited time" line of pumpkin-based goodies, including fresh pumpkin ravioli. Normally we don't buy a lot of prepared foods, but pumpkin ravioli might be worth making an exception for. (We've tried making our own ravioli in the past, and it's more trouble than it's worth.) Pumpkin bisque and pumpkin muffins, on the other hand, I'm pretty sure we can make at home if we have a hankering for them.
  • A recipe for curried acorn squash soup that looks intriguing. It's made with peanut butter, which means it might have that same odd fascination for Brian as his favorite Garlic, Chick-pea and Spinach Soup out of Vegetarian: The Best Ever Recipe Collection, which contains tahini (sesame paste). It can also be made with butternut squash (which is easier to work with), but since we our whole harvest this year was only six squash, I'm not sure it's worth wasting one on an untried recipe.
  • A recipe for a Greek butternut squash tart (actually more of a pizza). I don't care for feta cheese, but if we substituted in some mozzarella, I think it would be quite tasty.
  • A technique for making pizza crust out of mashed cauliflower, mixed with egg, spices and Parmesan cheese. This will be worth sharing with (or trying on) our friends who have problems with gluten.
So that's actually four useful items, for the price of...none. Zero dollars spent so far, and six days left to go.
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