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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Extra juice for less dough

While she's no healthfood freak, The Bargain Queen does enjoy a fresh juice from time to time. And even Mr Bargain Queen can occasionally be persuaded to substitute his coffee for the fruity stuff.

But why spend money on juice when water can quench your thirst just as well?

Here's a few ways that juice can save you money, if you get the right stuff:

Juice is full of vitamins, and if you're getting enough of these nutrients through your diet, then you won't need expensive supplements.

Being healthy is a bargain. Fewer expensive trips to the doctor, and less missing work or dipping into your sick-leave.

Reduce snackiness. The extra nutrients in juice can prevent cravings for expensive and nutritionally bankrupt junk food.

So what's the best-value juice in terms of cost and nutrition?

Well, to begin with, we're talking about juice. Real, fresh-squeezed juice, from real pieces of fruit. Not cordial. Not from concentrate. Not adulterated with preservatives or sugar or synthesised vitamins.

In the supermarkets, you'll find these kind of fresh juices in the refrigerator aisle. Since they're a fresh product with no preservatives, they have to be kept cool and drunk within 1-2 weeks. They are pretty high in nutrition, and $5 per 2L bottle is about right for the good-quality brands (in Australia anyway).

The plastic or UHT bottles you buy off the shelf are generally made from concentrate. While these usually taste pretty good, they're not the same nutritionally as the fresh-squeezed stuff. All those extra weeks or months spent on the shelf, often in non-lightproof bottles, means the vitamins can seriously degrade. So even though they cost about half of the fresh brands, it's questionable that you're actually getting value.

What about cafe or chain-store juices? Well, these have the advantage of being freshly-made to order from real fruit, but they're seriously expensive. A single serve in a juice bar can cost you as much as the 2L bottle of fresh stuff from the supermarket. Not exactly Bargain Queen material.

The happy medium? Home-juicing! It's time to either dig up that juicer that's been sitting unused in the bottom of your cupboards (stuff you've bought and haven't used is costing you big-time, naughty), or sniff around eBay for a cafe-style model. You need a heavy-duty one, because it will be durable enough to handle anything, and will last you ages.

We use a Breville cafe-style juicer (A$130), and it's seriously useful. We have tossed in every kind of fruit imaginable, skin, leaves and all, and it doesn't skip a beat. It sounds like a jet-engine taking off, and I think it could probably juice a tree. And it's easy to clean with no fiddly bits or brushing required.

If the juicer is beyond your means at the moment, it time to start hinting to your friends and family for your next birthday...

So, having got the expensive bit out of the way, how much money will it save you?

Well, we yielded 4 litres of yummy apple, carrot and celery juice for $7.30.

2Kg of Juicing Apples - $2
2Kg of carrots - $1.80
Whole stick of celery - $3.50

The same amount would cost a whopping $32 from a cafe!

As for the supermarket brands, well you would pay $10 for 4 litres, so you're only saving a few dollars a throw - but then again, supermarket juice isn't as enjoyable as the stuff you squeeze yourself, and at home you can choose whatever combination of fruit you feel like - grapes, oranges, apples, pears - choose what's in season and it will be cheap and plentiful! Although it will take a while to pay off your juicer this way, we think that the health and enjoyment you get from home-juicing your favourite blends are well worth it.

For your home-juicing, don't buy your fruit at the supermarket, because they only sell stuff that looks most presentable for eating. If you ask the local greengrocer, they can give you bags and bags of the misshapen or damaged fruit for juicing. If you feel squemish about funny-looking fruit, just remember, that's what the cafes and supermarket brands use too.

PS - To save even more, rinse your juicer right after using it! It's quick and easy, saves you heaps of time cleaning dried bits bits from the machine, and makes your machine last longer.

So that's the juice on, er, juice.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Do sweat the big stuff

The Bargain Queen usually likes to keep things breezy and fun, but today she's going to talk about some of the serious stuff: lifestyle trade-offs.

If you want to stick to your budget and still be fabulous, there will be some trade-offs you have to make. Maybe you spend all your money at the hairdresser and live in a hovel? Or eat like a King and dress like a hobo? Or drive a great car but panic each year when the insurance bill comes in? Or perhaps you ignore the trade-offs and buy the things you can't afford on credit cards or hire purchase. The first three are completely valid trade-offs to make; the fourth will lead you to a world of financial pain.

So what are the trade-offs The Bargain Queen and Mr Bargain Queen have made?
  • We have a flatmate. The Bargain Queen used to think that once she could afford to live alone, she'd never have a flatmate again. It only took a year of apartment loneliness to convince her otherwise. The Bargain Queen and Mr Bargain Queen now live in a big house in a tree-lined street near the centre of town, with our friend Jon and his dog. The good bits are that we spend a lot of time with our friend; the dog's adorable; we share household chores; and we save money on rent and bills. On the down side, we've all had to cull some of our possessions (we had three of everything) and The Bargain Queen and Mr Bargain Queen can't have sex on the kitchen floor lest Jon comes home and catch us (although he's lived in band houses so he's hard to shock). Sharing a house works really well for us, but it's only feasible when you've got someone as cool as Jon to share with.

  • We don't have a car. In some places it's literally impossible to live without a car; in other places it's more-or-less doable. Living close to work, shops etc. makes it easier; being able to use Jon's car occasionally helps; and when all else fails, an occasional taxi ride is much cheaper than car ownership. On the down side, Sydney's public transport gets worse all the time, so being late is sometimes unavoidable. Again, this trade-off isn't for everyone but it suits us.

  • We're cool with pre-loved stuff. Our house is full of cool old stuff; we're avid Freecyclers; and The Bargain Queen buys half her clothes in op (thrift) shops. We try to fix stuff up rather than throwing it out. We even occasionally drag things in off the street, clean them up and make them look nice again. Some things are off-limits (no used underwear or shoes; nothing too stinky) but overall, we're happy to reuse and recycle. To some this will sound totally normal; to others it'll sound gross. The Bargain Queen knows people who are revulsed by the idea of wearing secondhand clothes or sitting on a couch someone else's bum has been on. If it works for them that's great, but it wouldn't work for The Bargain Queen. By buying pre-loved items she's able to have better quality things for less money - plus it's good for the environment. But most importantly, noone else has the same vintage dresses as The Bargain Queen ;)

  • We don't shop recreationally. While we both LOVE buying gorgeous new things (especially when they're on sale) neither of us shop recreationally. The Bargain Queen knows people who go to the mall every weekend to hang out and end up spending money every time. Great if it works for them, but we don't need much new stuff so we don't go shopping very often. Mr Bargain Queen only goes shopping when a piece of clothing has worn out (or offended The Bargain Queen's aesthetic sensibilities); The Bargain Queen goes a little more often because she's the household organiser so she needs storage boxes and file folders as well as clothes.

  • We make the most of what we have. This will definitely fall into the 'too obvious to mention' category for some readers, but it's important to us. When either of us 'need' something we see what we can do with what we have before we go and buy anything. For example, The Bargain Queen regularly proclaims she has nothing to wear. She then goes shopping in her wardrobe and finds an outfit that will look great for the occasion. This prevents a whole lot of 'cheap and fun' fashion purchases that would be worn for a single night out, then discarded. This also applies to kitchen gadgetry. The Bargain Queen LOVES gadgets but realistically, you can do almost anything with good saucepans, knives and food processor. Some great cooks even skip the food processor. (Plus every gadget needs to be stored somewhere and if The Bargain Queen bought them all there would be no room in the kitchen for food or cooking...)
So what's the up side of making these trade-offs?
  • We live in a big house on a tree-lined street.
  • Our house is nicely decorated.
  • We eat well.
  • We have generous clothes budgets. (Hey, The Bargain Queen's vain ;)
  • We take great holidays.
  • We're still living within our means.
Everyone's trade-offs are different so please don't feel bad if your financial priorities differ. If you know what's important to you and spend accordingly already, you're doing great. If not... think about it?

(The Bargain Queen will post some tips for sorting out spending priorities in a few days, so check back for more!)

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Bargain Queen is on Project Blog!

The Bargain Queen blog has just been added to Project Blog (presented by The Budget Fashionista). It's a directory of all the best fashion, beauty and shopping blogs around so I'm thrilled to get a listing!

If you're interested in fashion, beauty or shopping go check it out :)

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Heavy-duty duty-free

Duty-free. Savour those words. Duuu-tyyyy freeeee.

Bargain, right? Well, sometimes. If you can control yourself.

The reality is, duty-free is only going to save you money if:

1) You would normally buy that stuff anyway. Do you typically spend your Friday evenings quaffing Rœderer and puffing on Montecristos? Me neither.


2) The goods you're purchasing actually have significant sales or import taxes on them in the first place.

In Australia and much of the world, many "luxury" goods like handbags, perfumes, sunglasses, cameras & computers just don't attract much tax these days. Once upon a time, these goods were taxed at 30%, so duty-free was a real saving. But these days, luxuries attract maybe 10% at most. Now, how hard is it to find a sale offering 40%-off, 50%-off, or more? Not hard, right? So really, duty-free on these sorts of things isn't much of bargain, and you can probably find a wider selection if you stick to the original retailers anyway.

As for perfumes and cologne, there is a certain allure to picking up something on the way through. But to get your money's worth, don't buy the large (100/90ml) bottles. They may be cheaper-per-millilitre, but the fragrance only has about a 12-month shelf-life when it will be at its radiant best, after that it will start to change its character and become noticeably, umm, Britney. And the only way you'll get through 100ml of fragrance in 12 months is to go out every single day smelling like a muskrat. So really, buy a 50ml bottle and put the $50 you save into your holiday bar tab.

In fact, when it comes to duty-free, if you want to really save, you have to sin. I'm talking booze and fags. And by fags, I mean, well, fags. In most countries, alcohol and tobacco attract about a jillion percent tax, and when they remove that, the price really comes down.

But even so, the best bargains are at the bottom end of the market. Because the "duty" is imposed on the alcohol content alone. So, since a bottle of Coyote Tequila ($A35.00) has the same alcohol content as a bottle of Lous XIII ($A1350.00), you save a princely $15 on the alcohol-related duty. That means your bottle of firewater has come down in price by about 40%, whereas your fine cognac is about 1% cheaper.

And it's the same for cigarettes. In Australia, and in many places, the government imposes a "per stick" tax. So your 40-pack of Longbeach attracts more tax than do 25 Havana cigars. And without the duty, your Longbeach get super-cheap, while the Havana cigars, with their premium prestige, remain highly-valued.

So really, to be a Bargain Queen in the Duty Free store, you have to sail through customs with a 50ml bottle of J-Lo, 2 litres of Bacardi and a carton of menthol cigarettes. I don't think so.

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Word verification

Just FYI, there was some comment spam left over the weekend so word verification has been turned on. The Bargain Queen gets just as annoyed deciphering those silly word pictures as everyone else does, but it seems preferable to deleting spam.

Apologies for any inconvenience.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Confession: bad holiday purchases

The Bargain Queen has a confession to make: like a lot of people, she's made some shockingly bad purchases while on holiday. She gets to a fabulous exotic destination and all of a sudden, things that will never be practical / appropriate / attractive on the streets of Sydney become must-haves. She's come home many times with bulging suitcases, having spent half of the next year's clothing budget in a single day. (Just typing this, The Bargain Queen has a look of utter horror on her face...)

What is it about holidays that make ridiculous things seem like worthy purchases? Is it the one-off-opportunity factor? (Maybe I'll never come back here. Gotta buy that ugly shirt.) Does all that relaxation go to one's brain and cause temporary insanity? Or is it just that The Bargain Queen's memory is so poor she forgets all about her normal life the second she steps out of it?

Whatever causes it, The Bargain Queen has (mostly) learnt to shop sensibly while on holiday. But before we have more of The Bargain Queen's limitless shopping wisdom, let's get to the promised confession.

Here's some of the truly nutty things The Bargain Queen has bought over the years:
  • Clubbing gear (Melbourne, 1998). As a very young lass, The Bargain Queen once went on holiday and spent half her year's clothing budget on clothes which are only appropriate in nightclubs (like tight silver PVC trousers and very slinky black tops). Everyone's young once, so as long as The Bargain Queen doesn't think about how those pants would look on her now, it's all good - especially since she knows how to keep to a budget now.
    Lesson: if you wouldn't contemplate spending that much at home, don't do it on holidays.

  • Serious winter jacket (Chicago, 2000) - as shown in the pic. While on holiday in Chicago, The Bargain Queen managed to forget that she lives in a really warm climate, where it practically never gets below freezing. While this jacket would be a cute way to deal with icy winters, an inch of goose down all over will never be needed in Sydney. The justification was "I'll wear it skiing"... The Bargain Queen's only gone skiing twice. Oops.
    Lesson: the weather on holidays is not the weather at home.

  • Shiny silk skirts (Thailand, 2002). Thai silk is incredibly beautiful - no visit to Bangkok is complete without buying some. The sensible shopper would possibly probably pick up some cushions, a tablecloth and maybe a top (but only if they're really thin). The Bargain Queen fell for shiny silk skirts. (She likes to blames the tiny Thai women, who are not only 3/4 her height but also 3/4 her width. This is because The Bargain Queen has a weird mental disorder that causes her to buy clothes that make her look fat whenever she feels fat.) Let's just say, shiny skirts do nothing for the thighs of a Westerner, even if they're usually pretty svelte. These are now in the sewing basket, waiting to be made into the cushion covers The Bargain Queen should've bought in the first place.
    Lesson: what makes you look fat on holiday, still makes you look fat at home.

  • Ugliest rain jacket on Earth (London, 2005). In the midst of a drizzly London day, The Bargain Queen decided that she must end her ongoing quest for a nice rain jacket immediately. Like most rushed purchases, this didn't go quite to plan. While the jacket in question met all the practical criteria (waterproof; folds down to be really small; neutral colour), it's also butt ugly. A black nylon anorak with gold trim (cringe), it's been worn exactly once and that was in the bush. And The Bargain Queen was still embarassed by it.
    Lesson: practical + great price + butt ugly = not a bargain after all.

  • Ceramic garlic graters (Provence, 2005). These seemed like the coolest idea: they're little ceramic dishes with a rough surface on the bottom. You rub cloves of garlic against the bottom and they get all grated up. You can even grate your garlic in there, then pour in some olive oil and dip bread in it. Yummo! The Bargain Queen bought one for herself, one for Mr Bargain Queen and a few for other people (they were only a couple of Euros each and they seemed so cool and unique). None of them have been used at all. Evidently, they're just one more kitchen gadget noone needs.
    Lesson: nifty gadgets maybe aren't the best idea.

  • Books and magazines (too many holidays to count). Books and magazines seem like such a cool souvenir. They're relatively cheap, they're mostly not available back home and you don't have to worry about whether they'll suit the climate. The only problem is, they weigh a tonne. So you either lug them up and down escalators in unfamiliar subways or you pay a fortune posting them home.
    Lesson: beware of heavy souvenirs; a free hernia is not a bargain.
That's enough shaming now. The Bargain Queen's going to follow this up with some 'show off' posts in a couple of days, to tell you how good she is at holiday shopping now.

In the meantime, here's The Bargain Queen's absolute favourite holiday souvenir: pens. Not anything fancy, just ordinary plastic souvenir pens that cost roughly $2 each (if that). Maybe that sounds dull, but they have some big advantages. For a start, they're cheap. So if you hate them when you get home it's no big deal to give them away. More importantly, you're pretty much guaranteed to use them because EVERYONE loses pens sometimes. Plus every time you do use your holiday pen, you're reminded of the holiday.

But the best bit about holiday pens is they're practically theft-proof. The Bargain Queen's favourite pens both sport big logos (one's funky and purple from the Tate Modern, the other's chic chocolate brown from the Bolton Hotel in Wellington) and they always get given back. Maybe they're just too tacky to steal, but The Bargain Queen prefers to believe that noone's scummy enough to steal her special holiday memories. Aw.

OK, they're just too tacky to steal.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

The cheaper catfood challenge, continued

The Bargain Queen's been working on the cheaper cat food challenge set by her friend kt. Cheaper cat food has never been a big issue for The Bargain Queen because she has just one cat, and Queen Kitty is tiny. She costs $5-10/week to feed, which is nothing compared to rent, bills and clothing expenses. But The Bargain Queen is always up for a challenge :)

So here's an update on the cheaper cat food options we've tried and how they worked out:
  • Cheaper cat food. We tried a cheaper brand of tinned cat food, and while it looked and smelled awful, the cat seems to really like it. Go figure. The Bargain Queen's still not convinced that it's good for the cat though... surely nothing that smells that gross can be healthy?
  • Fish head. This seemed like a really good idea: feed the cat meat off a fish head. We bought the head off a premium Tasmanian salmon from the fish market for a little over a dollar. From it, we got three meals for the cat (one tablespoon of salmon sashimi, plus two lots of flaked cooked salmon) plus a couple of snacks from the dog since she likes bones and cartilege. The only problem was that the cat wasn't so keen (although she did like the broth we cooked the fish in), so next time we'll just eat the salmon ourselves.
  • Dog meat. The dog gets a lot of fresh meat, so we've been looking for ways to share it with the cat. Since the cat's tiny and the dog's really big, taking a tablespoon of meat from the dog's meal and giving it to the cat works really well. The dog doesn't even notice it gone but it's a big treat for the cat.
  • Egg yolk. We've been making a big effort to give the cat leftovers from our own cooking wherever we can. So when a receipe called for egg whites only, we gave the yolks to the cat. This worked pretty well - she ate a whole yolk and even seemed to like it. But when we gave her a second one, she gave us a look like "enough already" so the dog got it instead. She's a tiny cat though, so it seems sensible that she wouldn't eat much.
  • Prawn (jumbo shrimp) heads. Again in the leftovers department, we gave the cat some heads and shells from prawns we cooked. When we pulled all the brains out for her she had some and seemed to like it, but who wants to handle prawn brains for a cat? So we gave her some whole prawn heads and she's ignored them. Though on the up side, the dog loves them!
So far, The Bargain Queen has discovered that the cat is by far the fussiest eater in the house. If it doesn't come in a dinky little can, she's not interested in eating it.

But while the cat food challenge isn't working out so well with the cat, the dog is having a feast. Whatever the cat doesn't eat, the dog does, with great gusto and appreciation. Gotta love dogs!

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

No longer a seedling sucker

While The Bargain Queen gets most of her plants cheaply, she has been known to buy seedlings from time to time - mostly because it seemed like the only way to grow things that aren't typically given away. It might sound silly but growing from seed seemed intimidating, time-consuming and way too difficult. Every pack of seeds The Bargain Queen picked up stated that seed raising containers and special potting mix are needed, and then you have to find a spot that's sunny buy doesn't get direct sunlight. It all sounds so hard!

However, it did also occur to The Bargain Queen that plants grew from seed long before the invention of special seed raising potting mix so perhaps it's not strictly necessary. Upon asking her flatmate, The Bargain Queen was told that paper kitchen towels do just as good a job.

So The Bargain Queen gave it a go and these are the results a week later:

All those green bits are baby now pea plants!

It's just an ordinary plate with a stack of four ordinary paper kitchen towels (scrunched at the edges) on it. The seeds were sprinkled randomly on top and kept moist with tap water. For the first couple of days there were a couple more paper towels on top but the seedlings didn't seem to be able to bust through them so they were taken off after that. Really, planting them in the garden will be more work than growing the seedlings has been.

Now admittedly, these are snow pea seedlings which are apparently about the easiest thing on earth to grow. Plus (completely by chance) The Bargain Queen managed to sprout them at exactly the right time of year (it's early autumn here in Sydney). Still it's a promising enough result that The Bargain Queen's just started a second tray of seedlings, this time with some native Australian flower seeds.

As for the snow peas, these will go in The Bargain Queen's potted kitchen garden in the pots where the tomato plants with no tomatoes have been all summer. Can't wait for fresh snow peas out of the garden, yummo!

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Insider shopping tips: op/thrift stores

A couple of days ago, The Bargain Queen talked about how to get great insider shopping info, to help you find the best bargains. Today, The Bargain Queen shares some of her best tips for shopping in op shops (which are called thrift stores in America).

The Bargain Queen volunteers in one of her local op shops occasionally, and always comes home with some great finds she's unearthed while helping around the store. She's also seen the best and worst shopping techniques in action, and watched one shopper go home thrilled while another gets cranky.

If you're not a regular op shopper already, they're a great place to find cheap clothes, accessories, furniture, homewares, books, craft supplies and all sorts of other things. Two big chains that operate in both Australia and America are The Salvation Army and Goodwill - look in the phone book to find your local ones. Just be prepared to look through a lot of, erm, interesting items to find the great stuff. If you view it as a treasure hunt, it's a lot of fun... but it's still a lot more work than going to the mall. So what's the incentive? Fanastic bargains! (The Bargain Queen's going to show off her latest haul in a couple of days, so y'all come back now :)

Here's how to get the best op shop deals:
  • Shop on a weekday. Op shops are usually packed on weekends, so often the great bargains sell out early. Plus the staff are so busy they don't put anything new on the shelves, meaning stock can be seriously depleted by the end of the day.
  • Find out how the store is re-stocked. Some stores get their stock entirely from over-the-counter donations (i.e. things that are brought into the store). Other stores, usually in big chains like Salvation Army and Goodwill, get all their stock from a central warehouse, and anything that comes into the store is sent there to be sorted and priced. Some stores use a combination of both methods. The best way to find out how your favourite op shops are re-stocked is to volunteer occasionally. If you really don't have time, try chatting with the staff next time you're there shopping and see if you can find out.
  • Come in on re-stocking days. Stores that sell over-the-counter donations often have the best stock early Monday morning, because Saturday is the busiest donation day. Customers who work during the week bring in bags of stuff, but the store is so busy that it's not put out until Monday. If stock comes from a central warehouse, there's usually one drop a week and the best selection of stock is available on that day and the day afterwards (as it takes a little while to shelve it all). Wednesday is a common day for drops but it varies between chains and stores, so it's best to check with the individual store. Again, volunteers find this out very easily, or you can ask the staff.
  • Don't leave things in changerooms. If you want to make yourself popular, re-shelve anything you don't want! The majority of op shop staff are volunteers who often work very hard sorting stock, cleaning and fixing things for sale, making the store look nice and dealing with the occasional crazy customer. The last thing volunteers want when they're trying to make 1,000 books with broken spines look attractive, is to get up after every customer comes in and re-shelve unwanted clothes. If you want to be waited on, go to the mall and pay retail - you can't expect that level of service from volunteers. You won't be kicked out of the store for making more work for the staff, but you won't get information or discounts either.
  • Be super-polite. Believe it or not, a lot of op shop customers are really rude! Sometimes they're mentally ill or disabled and don't know any better; sometimes they're anti-social; and sometimes they think it's OK to look down on volunteers who handle used underwear and serve crazies all day. If you're one of the polite, pleasant customers, the staff really notice. The Bargain Queen is always nice to op shop staff and apart from being the right thing to do, it has gotten her many discounts and freebies.
  • Don't ask for discounts. Most things are so cheap in op shops already that asking for a discount just makes you look like a scumbag. If you really are so poor you can't afford a $4 top, many charity-run op shops will give you clothes, furniture and/or food for free, which is worth keeping in mind if you're ever seriously down and out. The rest of the time, please remember that the money you spend is helping a charity and just pay what they ask.
  • Do let them know if the pricing is wrong. Generally, haggling in charity stores is just wrong, but it is OK if you think they've got the pricing wrong - just remember to be super-polite. Everyone makes mistakes occasionally. Here's the three circumstances The Bargain Queen has when it's ok to ask for a discount:
    1. You spot something great in a store, but the price tag looks WAY high. You come back a month or so later and it's still there - the price is so high it hasn't sold. In this case, you can politely ask the manager: "I notice this has been in stock for a while and I think the price is a bit high. Would you accept $X for it?".
    2. There's no price on an item you'd really like it. You take it to the counter to ask how much and they tell you an amount you think is over the top. Sometimes, especially if you're well-dressed, you've been mistaken for a dealer and given an inflated price. Gently letting the staff member know you're not will sometimes get the price lowered. For example: "Oh, I'm just student, I can't afford that!". Just be honest - if you are a dealer, or as well-off as you look, give the charity the money already.
    3. You find a damaged item that's been priced the same as similar undamaged items. If you point this out to a staff member, sometimes you'll get a small discount.
    Please use all these methods sparingly though. Cutting into a charity's funds for your own gain does not make you a Bargain Queen!
Rebecca helpfully reminded The Bargain Queen of something she'd forgotten (oops!):
  • Op shops / thrift stores have sales too. In Rebecca's area, The Salvation Army stores mark things down on Thursdays. Where The Bargain Queen lives, the sales are more random (the store managers have discretion over what sales they hold and when), so it's best to ring the store and find out. Usually stock that's been in the store more than a month will be half price (they'll all have a particular tag colour), but there'll also sometimes be 'fill a bag for $10' days, which are brilliant!
So we've talked about how to get the best deals at op shops. Stay tuned for info on how to get the best retail and discount outlet deals!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Welcome new readers!

If you followed the link from Digs Magazine and are here for the first time, welcome!

The Bargain Queen blog is all about living well on a budget and feeling good about it. Here you'll find information on saving money (without compromising on style) in all aspects of your life: food, entertainment, fashion, beauty, gardening, decorating and a whole lot more.

It's written by The Bargain Queen and her husband, Mr Bargain Queen. They're 27 and 31 respectively and live in Sydney, Australia. The Bargain Queen is ruler of all things retail: if there's a cheap source of anything, she knows all about it. Mr Bargain Queen backs her up with his expertise in personal finance, budgeting and investing.

This blog is a work in progress. We're new to this and learning as we go. For now, all previous posts are neatly organised by subject on We hope that makes it easier for you to find what you're interested in. If you have any tips for improving our blog, email us!

Thanks for stopping by,

The Bargain Queen

PS: If you like cats, you can meet Queen Kitty here.

Banish the Balcony Blues

The Bargain Queen has an article published in Digs Magazine!

It's called Banish the Balcony Blues and it's all about gardening in small, rented spaces. If you'd like a gorgeous garden but don't have space, money or a lot of gardening expertise, take a look.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Frequent flyers frequently disappoint

Frequent Flyer programs are a waste of money. There, I said it.

For those of you who like Frequent Flyers, I promise there’s a useful comparison up ahead, so keep reading. For those who loathe Frequent Flyers, just sit back, enjoy the rant and an oxygen mask will drop down if there is an interruption to the air supply.

I’m sorry, but anything for which you have to pay fees, that restricts your choice of flights and seats to whatever late-night, low-season tickets that it suits the airline to offer you, just isn’t worth it.

Why pay a fee to get the crumbs off the table? And then pay again just to get a flight that actually suits you?

If this is how airlines treat their most loyal customers, heaven help the rest of us.

In 10 years as a semi-regular flyer, I’ve never joined a program – I’ve always just gone with the cheapest fare I could get at a time that suited me. In 10 years, I’ve saved $2500 just by choosing the cheapest available fare instead of one connected with a Frequent Flyer. And I’ve done it all without flying Aeroflot.

I’ve never been stuck with flying an airline who’s service has gone downhill just because I’m in their program. When I look at the timetabling contortions my friends have put up with, the annual fees they’ve paid and the all the bizarre things they’ve bought at overpriced supermarkets just to get Fly Buys, I can tell you, I’m way ahead.

But fortunately, there’s now a frequent flyer in Australia that costs you nothing and lets you choose any seat you like, on any flight. So The Bargain Queen has persuaded me to take another look at Virgin’s Velocity program.

But first, which sounds like the better deal to you? Get 17% off your next airfare, or earn 6 frequent flyer points for every dollar you spend? Believe it or not, there’s no difference!

How do we know? I simply logged into Velocity with The Bargain Queen’s code and checked how many points it cost for the cheapest seat on a Sydney – Melbourne flight. Then I logged into Virgin’s non-Velocity web page to check the dollar cost of the cheapest seat on the exact same flight. The lowest-cost in points was 7,000 ; the fare was worth $105.00 . So, you’d have to spend $630.00 with Virgin to claim that $105.00 seat. It’s a straight 6-to-1 deal, or roughly 17% off.

Now, if you went into a retail shop and they offered you 17% off, you’d be pretty happy, right? But if they told you that they’ll only give you the 17% discount after you’ve bought 6 things in the shop, you’d tell them to go to hell, wouldn’t you?

So why do people accept deals from airlines that they wouldn’t accept from anyone else? Beats me.

Let me put it this way. Frequent Flyers were invented for the benefit of the airline, not you, the flyer. It was a way to get the airline to fill its unused seats. That’s why all those other programs restrict the seats available to only the ones they can’t otherwise sell. All that warm-and-fluffy stuff about how much they wanted to reward you for your loyalty was so much marketing guff. All they ever wanted was to foist their unpopular seats onto you while making you feel good. Sorry, but that's the truth, and I've heard it from senior marketing executives in 3 different and very prestigeous airlines.

Of course, it worked a treat, in the early days, the airline with the best Frequent Flyer programs attracted lots of new customers.

But ironically, now that all the airlines have programs, there’s really no difference. OK, it’s great that Virgin will let you choose any seat on any flight, but it’s only a matter of time before Qantas follows suit.

If an airline really wanted to attract new customers now, the best thing they could do is scrap their Frequent Flyer program. The way Velocity is priced, it suggests that they could make all their airfares 17% cheaper overnight, just by getting rid of the Frequent Flyer.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

PS - The opinions expressed in this post are not those of The Bargain Queen, they are Mr Bargain Queen speaking in a private capacity. From cattle class. In the centre seat.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Get insider info, get the best bargains!

The Bargain Queen LOVES getting insider info, because it makes it so much easier to find great bargains. If you know:
  • WHO sells the type of thing you're looking for,
  • WHAT they most want or need to sell,
  • WHEN their sales are slowest,
  • WHY they discount and
  • HOW they sell their clearance stock's a whole lot easier to find the best deals.

Here's how to get that information:
  1. Get into the industry. The best source of insider info is to actually be on the inside. This doesn't mean you have to give up your day job though - there are other ways in.
    The Bargain Queen's first tip is that if you like op (thrift) shopping, you should volunteer in one of your favourite shops occasionally. Even if you can only spare a few hours each month, many stores will be thrilled to have the help, and you'll learn a lot about how op shops work and how to find the best deals. Plus, when you're re-arranging shelves or sorting out tangled racks of clothes, you're likely to find some great bargains to buy.
    The second tip, is that your existing skills might allow you to provide services to the industry you're interested in. For example, if you design software like The Bargain Queen does, look for projects / jobs where you design software for retailers, manufacturers or service providers whose products you're interested in.

  2. Talk to insiders. It's really easy to talk to insiders, even if you don't know any personally. Every sales assistant you speak to has insider info, which they're usually happy to share IF you approach them the right way. Be friendly, be charming and remember your manners - don't be too blatant about trying to get things more cheaply. In Australia, the general rule is that it's fine to ask for information ("I love these shoes but they're just too expensive. Do you know if they'll be marked down in the next sale? When is that?"); it's usually not appropriate to ask outright for a discount unless an item's faulty. The exceptions are garage (yard) sales and some markets.
    These rules apply doubly if the insider is a friend or family member, because if they can give you a discount, they'll usually offer.

  3. Read up. Industry insiders write and/or are interviewed for books, magazines and newspapers all the time. Most major newspapers (and some magazines) post recent stories online for free, so this can be a great start. A trip to your local library can help you find books and magazines to read too. The stories to look for are about the overall state of a particular industry; trends within that industry; the health of particular companies; and articles about previous years' sales (they're usually repeated each year).

  4. Get online. Apart from newspapers' web sites, the two best sources of insider info online are blogs and discussion forums. Google's your best resource for finding these sites, but to get you started, here's two of The Bargain Queen's favourites:
    • Kathleen Fasanella's blog Fashion-Incubator is a great place to learn about the inner workings of the fashion business
    • The Vogue Australia Forums are a popular online hangout for Australian shop assistants and other fashion people. They often post about when the sales are on and what's been marked down, to help you pick the best sales to attend.
So what are you waiting for? The sooner you start your research, the sooner you get your Masters in Bargain Hunting ;)

some insider tips for op (thrift) shopping, retail and eBay.

Stop buying magazines!

The Bargain Queen LOVES checking out celebrity outfits, although she would never, ever slavishly copy anyone else's outfit, no matter how famous/ cool/ rich/ whatever they are. But copy-catting aside, some celebrity images are inspiring and beautiful, others are just so much fun to be bitchy about.

Now if you want to spend lots of money keeping up with what Lindsay Lohan's wearing, you can buy magazines. But if you want to get them before they're published in the mags, for FREE, you can check the sites magazine editors use. According to The Bargain Queen's magazine sources, is currently the best source of celebrity images, and Getty Images is pretty popular among Voguettes.

Just don't visit these sites if you have other things to do, they're kind of addictive and The Bargain Queen is now due to leave for drinks and still in her trackies. Oops!

Filed in:

Friday, March 17, 2006

How many pairs of shoes does a girl need?

According to The Chicago Tribune:

Shoe wardrobe's magic number: 5

Via ShoeSense

Filed in:

Fraud: eBay's number one best-seller

The Bargain Queen has been defrauded on eBay twice. The first time, she bought a Tiffany necklace (before everyone knew that all Tiffany on eBay is fake), which turned out to be a good quality fake in the dodgiest packaging you'll ever see. She still wears the necklace, mostly because it's pretty, but partly because it was $200 which is a lot to spend on something and then never use it.

The second time, she bought a CD and the seller sent her a burnt CD copy of it, instead of the pictured item. By then, The Bargain Queen had enough positive feedback that one negative wouldn't kill her, so she reported the seller and got her money back.

These aren't isolated incidents by any stretch. If you're looking at Tiffany jewellery, designer handbags, Diesel or Seven For All Mankind jeans, even some car parts (!) on eBay, there's a high chance you'll get a fake. According to the Chicago Times, one woman even got ripped off on a wedding dress. And apparently New Zealand's equivalent, is no better.

So how do you make sure you don't get ripped off on eBay and other auction sites? Keep these tips in mind, and eBay's a relatively safe place:
  1. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. This season's hottest super-expensive bags do not show up on eBay for $100 - cheap copies of them do.
  2. Treat all 'high risk' items (like accessories by well-known designers) as possible fakes, and do your research. Ask the seller about the authenticity of the item before you bid, read guides to spotting fakes and check the seller's feedback really carefully.
  3. Be suspicious if the item is being shipped from China or Hong Kong; a lot of fake goods are manufactured there.
  4. Don't take return policies at face value. A common ploy is to offer a full refund, "if you can prove the bag is fake", because they know it's very difficult to get any documentation to prove it. (My Poupette are one of the few places to authenticate bags, although they only do Louis Vuitton.)
  5. Be aware of the other types of eBay fraud, including buying things you never receive. Just because the item in the pictures is genuine, doesn't mean that's what you'll get. Wikipedia has a pretty complete list of ways you can be defrauded on eBay.
  6. If you do buy a 'risky' item on eBay, pay for it using either Visa or PayPal and you'll have an easier time getting your money back. Both have fraud protection programs you can sometimes use, whereas bank deposit and wire transfer offer no protection at all.
As a footnote, kudos to eBay's PR people. Every Australian magazine The Bargain Queen has purchased recently has an article about how brilliant eBay is, even though many people seem to be getting sick of the scams and logging off. Plus eBay's spokespeople seem to be there to say how safe online shopping is, every single time there's an article about any kind of online fraud. Now that's seriously good PR!

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

$4.95 Vogue dressmaking patterns! (4 days only)

Spotlight have the following offer on at the moment:

Buy your dressmaking patterns now.


McCalls, Butterick and Vogue - ALL THREE BRANDS ONE LOW PRICE! VIPs $4.95 each
Thursday 16 to Sunday 19 March ONLY

You have to be a member of their 'VIP club' to get it, but the club is free to join and they don't spam you too much. If you're not a member already and you want to take advantage of this offer, ask the sales assistant nicely if they'll sign you up before you buy the patterns (you might have to buy something small to join, not sure). Just try to go in when the store's quiet, you can't sign up with a long queue of people tapping their feet behind you because their lunch hour's almost up!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Potato chips: $2 each

The Bargain Queen would like to know, what ever happened to generous portion sizes? We went to a restaurant in Newtown called Oscillate Wildly last night for a friend's birthday, and left wondering where the rest of the food was.

While The Bargain Queen thought the food was excellent (except there was so little of it), Mr Bargain Queen decided his was inedible and ate nothing all night. This meant that, by eating both hers and Mr Bargain Queen's food, The Bargain Queen felt pleasantly just-full at the end of the night. For a special night out though, The Bargain Queen would prefer to feel uncomfortably gluttonously full, since an occasional treat is all the better for over-eating. But really, if The Bargain Queen had eaten only her own meal and felt just-full at the end, she would've been happy enough.

To make it even worse, neither of us are huge eaters, so we refuse to accept that the food was the right size but our appetites were too big. Seriously, The Bargain Queen's ($23) main was a small portion of fish with six chips and a tablespoon of salad on the side - and that's not an exaggeration. We'll call that $10 of fish, $1 of salad and $2 each for the chips (which were the best The Bargain Queen has ever tasted, but still only worth about $1 each).

The Bargain Queen really hopes this isn't the start of an Australian nouvelle cuisine trend, where two over-cooked asparagus spears warrant a line on the menu to trumpet their scintillating fabulosity. Or on second thoughts, The Bargain Queen hopes that's where Sydney food is headed - for the sake of her budget. We'll never eat out again!

Note: Apart from the micro-portions, Oscillate Wildly was brilliant. Nice decor, great service, super-tasty food, a little loud but that was probably our drunk friends... if we could get double helpings of everything, we'd go back tomorrow. Or at least, The Bargain Queen would. Mr Bargain Queen rated it all as inedible, but there's no accounting for (lack of) taste.

Lancome Juicy Tubes special

Another great special: Lancome Juicy Tubes for AU$19 at Fresh fragrances and cosmetics.


Qantas sale

In The Bargain Queen's email this morning, a Qantas sale for flights within Australia:
The Go Australia! Sale
  • seats on sale until Tuesday 21 March 2006 or until sold out
  • one-way economy specials are valid for travel 2 May to 30 June 2006
Canberra to Melbourne from $78*
Hobart to Sydney from $139*
Sydney to Brisbane from $79*
Cairns to Sydney from $154*
Melbourne to Adelaide from $79*
Darwin to Sydney from $194*
Brisbane to Melbourne from $110*
Perth to Melbourne from $199*
Adelaide to Sydney from $119*
They also have Sydney to Melbourne for $79, which The Bargain Queen will probably take advantage of to go see her brother.

You can book flights here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A big apology

The Bargain Queen owes her readers an apology. The other day, The Bargain Queen blogged about $1,000 handbags, wrote pretty poorly on the subject, and Rebecca was rightly offended.

While the intended message was "if you can afford expensive things, make sure you'll get value from them by wearing them to death", this is what was actually said:
This is a great lesson to remember when you're out shopping: if you stick with classic things that you love, you can buy expensive things and still be a Bargain Queen. Let's start with The Bargain Queen's personal obsession: bags. A $1,000 bag like the ones in the story is fine, if you really will carry it every day for 10 years - and as long as you can afford it without resorting to plastic. Over its life, it costs the same as two fashionable $50 bags a year, and a great bag will look a lot better than a bunch of cheapies. (The Bargain Queen's most expensive bag was a present from Mr Bargain Queen and even that was under $1,000... no wonder she's not a fashion editor!)

If a $200 bag is a big splurge for you, work with that: buy the nicest fabric bag you can find and treat it well. (The Bargain Queen finds the majority of $200 leather bags are a bit ew.) Or if you're a fashion chameleon and get bored with a bag after a few weeks, forget the 'investment' bags and have fun with cheap and cheerful.

The point is, spend according to the amount of wear you'll get from each garment, and you'll never look like a slightly unstable fashion victim.
This is the immediacy of blogging at its worst. The Bargain Queen meant to say one thing, but kind of managed to say something else entirely. And was bitchy in the process. The post in question has now been updated, so you can see what she meant to say over here.

To clarify The Bargain Queen's views on expensive bags:

You don't have to have an expensive bag to be stylish. You don't even have to 'buy the best you can afford', as magazines often say. Any bag that suits your budget, personality and lifestyle is great, even if the magazines say it's a 'don't' this year. ('Cos if it's 'out', it'll be back 'in' as soon as you've thrown it away!)

The Bargain Queen likes to look at super-expensive fashion the same way she looks at Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles: as fabulous, inspiring artwork that has no place in her life or her credit card statement.

The Bargain Queen HATES that "my stuff is not good enough" feeling that she sometimes gets when she's reading magazines or looking at things online. She hates feeling cheap because her budget didn't stretch to an extragavant wedding, fully colour coordinated home furnishings or this season's throwaway fashion trend.

Noboday should ever feel bad about living within their means. Ever.

Fashion magazines applaud the personal style of people who buy couture dresses, and regard $5,000-10,000/year clothes budget as minimal. That's because the majority of their revenue comes from companies that sell vastly expensive clothing. People who have the money for couture and their own personal stylist have it relatively easy. They're scrutinised more, but they also have a big team of people dedicated to making them look good.

The people who really deserve applause are people like Rebecca, who's stylish on $1 a day. Finding a great sweater for a few hundred is easy; finding one for $1.77 is fantastic!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Hoyts March super specials

Hoyts cinemas currently have two great specials running:
  • $8.50 tickets for all movies on Mondays and Tuesdays
  • $10 tickets Wednesday-Sunday, if you book your tickets online
Looks like Mr Bargain Queen can afford to take The Bargain Queen on a date or two this month...

Sydney markets guide

Markets can be a great place to find cheap clothes, food, presents and a whole lot of other things too. The best guide to the markets around Sydney The Bargain Queen has found is this one on UrbanBoheme. (There's also a Melbourne market guide too.)

The Bargain Queen's favourite markets around Sydney are:
  • Glebe markets
  • Balmain markets
  • Paddy's fruit market
  • Sydney fish market
  • The Rocks market, where The Bargain Queen's brother-in-law sells his super-funky lamps
The Bargain Queen has no idea why so much fuss is made about the Dixon St night markets in Chinatown though. Every time The Bargain Queen has gone, it's been al fresco dining (no big deal anywhere outside Sydney) with a few stalls of cheap imported crap scattered around. Without even a decent phat thai on offer, it's no substitute for a real Asian night market!

Gonna buy me some serious art

The Bargain Queen has always been interested in contemporary art, but as yet doesn't own any (unless you count friends' work, in which case her house is full of it). After reading this article on where to find art cheaply in New York, she had to find out whether there were similar sources in Sydney.

Here's what she found:

Art fairs
There are affordable art fairs in both Sydney and Melbourne, held anually. This year's Melbourne show is in April; the Sydney one is in June. The Age reviewed the shows a couple of years ago:

"Affordable" here means accessible, educational and - to cut to the chase - works that will cost no more than $5000, and as little as $100. The show, which brings together 120 galleries "from all corners of Australia ... and overseas", only offers original works. Nothing, say, like a reproduction print or commercially printed poster.

Sounds like it might be worth checking out.

The other show that looks worth a visit is the Sydney Art on Paper Fair. No news about the 2006 fair on the web site yet though.

Artist-run gallery spaces
These are the Australian equivalent of non-profit exhibition spaces. First Draft is probably the best-known (even The Bargain Queen has heard of it!) and has been going since the 80s, but according to the Sydney Morning Herald a lot of other artist-run spaces have disappeared recently, which seems like a shame.

Student shows
Some of the ones around Sydney include:

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Bargain shopping is environmentally friendly

From another Times article, a brief quote:
One good thing is that TK Maxx is rather ethical; by recycling unwanted gear it’s not pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
This confirms something The Bargain Queen has believed for a long time: the best bargain-hunting grounds are the places that deal with cast-offs and rejects. So when you find super bargains in inauspicious surroundings, give yourself a pat on the back. You've taken something off the road to landfill and given it another life, AND you've scored a great deal in the process.

Get fit for free

The Times have an article up today with some great tips on how to get fit for free. The Bargain Queen is a big believer in free exercise, so she has her own suggestions to add:

Dog walking
The Bargain Queen's flatmate has a dog who needs walking a couple of times a day. Puppy not only provides added motivation (you try resisting a furry big-eyed creature who really wants to get out of the house), but she also demands a very brisk pace so it's a more intense workout. Not to mention all the strength work when puppy decides to tear off after another dog, dragging The Bargain Queen with her.

If you're feeling entrepreneurial, you could even get the neighbours to pay for your dog walking services and make some money as you sweat.

Catalogue delivery
Another way to make money while walking: The Bargain Queen's sister delivered catalogues for a while. The money's pretty crap, but it's enough to keep you in walking shoes and to motivate you when you might not otherwise do any exercise.

Leave the car at home
This is another way to do a lot more walking - just try not to use your car if you can possibly avoid it. For example, we walked to the fish markets today, 25 minutes each way. It seems like you have to take a car to buy fish because it goes off if it gets warm on the way home. The trick is, to ask the fishmonger to put some ice in with your fish, so it stays cold for long enough. We also often walk to the supermarket (builds muscle carrying stuff home), the movies (walk off the popcorn), the hairdresser, Kinkos, the shops... pretty much anywhere that's a walkable distance.

Royal National ParkBushwalk
Getting out into the bush is a brilliant way to stay fit, plus it's really cheap. It does take a whole afternoon though. The only costs to get started is a book of bushwalks near your place and a pair of sturdy shoes. We usually catch the train to a National Park and take it from there, so it's hours of exercise for a train fare.

These first four probably give the impression that Bargain Queen LOVES walking, and you're right. It's not icky and sweaty, you don't need a team to do it, and you can stickybeak all over your neighbourhood as you go. (LOVE peering through other people's windows at dusk. To check out their decor of course! Minds out of the gutter, people!)

The Bargain Queen does have some ideas that don't involve walking, too...

Yoga / kum nye / pilates / stretching
The Bargain Queen paid a helluva lot of money for various exercise classes, before realising that once you know the postures, you can keep going at home for free. The added bonus is that when The Bargain Queen holds a posture for five minutes at home, she uses the time to read half a chapter of a book if she can't be bothered meditating. Find a yoga instructor who'll let you do that!

Bike riding
Another form of exercise The Bargain Queen loves, is getting out on her bike. They're great for travelling longer distances than you can easily walk, and in the inner city they can be faster than taking the car. (The Bargain Queen keeps to side streets so she's never stuck in traffic.) If you don't already have a bike, try Freecycle - there have been a few given away recently in our area, so you might get lucky.

Elly in MoontaSwimming /snorkelling at the beach
The Bargain Queen doesn't do this very often herself, because she turns lobster red no matter how much sunscreen she uses. But in Sydney, you've got to be mad or very pale to stay out of the water. It's free, it's everywhere, and as long as you don't mind sharks and jellyfish it's brilliant! (Joking!)

Dancing round the house to trashy music
The Bargain Queen's final free exercise tip requires nothing more than a Christina Aguilera CD and a complete lack of shame. Fire up the stereo, shed your inhibitions and dance like there's noone watching. (Possibly also close the curtains, so you can be sure there isn't.) A CD-full of embarrassing dancing works out to almost an hour of cardio, plus you can practice all those Saturday Night Fever dance moves to use next time you're out clubbing. Or maybe it's just The Bargain Queen who does that...

Filed in:

Back hair: a fairy tale

Today The Bargain Queen wants to tell you a fairy tale, that happened a long time ago, in the land of Far Faraway.

Once upon a time there was a princess, who we'll call The Discount Princess. She was a fair and lovely princess, who liked shoes, bags, clothes and doing nice things for others - in that order.

One night, the princess went out to a dance at a sleazy nightclub. The princess was accustomed to trading in princes when they became tiresome, so she enjoyed occasionally visiting a place with so many 'princes' on offer. While she was there, she danced with an exeptionally dashing prince who, at the end of the night, asked the princess to email him. We shall call this fellow the Cheap Prince.

After many dates, The Discount Princess was getting along exceptionally well with The Cheap Prince. They progressed to a stage of courtship where clothing was removed, at which point the prince's dark secret was revealed... BACK HAIR!!?!!

The Princess was dismayed. This Prince was otherwise extremely desirable. He was tall, handsome, charming, attentive, intelligent, buff, funny and successful enough to keep the princess in Marc Jacobs shoes, so long as they're purchased on sale. But on the other hand, BACK HAIR!!?!! While the princess has no problem being vain (designers can be like that), perhaps it might be indecorous to abandon a prince due to only one flaw?

To win the heart of the Princess, The Cheap Prince tried to rid himself of this dreadful affliction. He went to a terrifying dungeon in the Waxing Salon, and for the princely sum of $65 had all offending hair torn from his back. But in making a deal with the devil, he had not checked the price, and came away with bacne (back acne, ew!) where once there was only hair.

The Prince immediately resumed his quest for smooth-backed glory, and after considerable seraching and toil, a solution was eventually found.

The Princess decided that actually werewolf-iness can be kind of attractive if you look at it that way (don't tell anyone), but ordered the Prince that he keep a well-tended lawn rather than an overgrown forest. For less than the price of a single waxing, a pair of hair clippers ($30) were purchased. The Princess went to work and sculpted neat topiary where once wild forest had been, and they both lived happily ever after.

And so a great lesson was learnt by all the land. Sometimes one's imperfections, with a little polishing, can become a feature with which one can happily live.

The End

The fine print: Any resemblance to actual people, like say The Bargain Queen and Mr Bargain Queen, is purely coincidental. This story is a work of fiction people, fiction, really!
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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sydney sample sale: Alice McCall

Hot Sydney sale tip from
Alice McCall holds a sample and stock clearance on 10th March, ONE DAY ONLY. So don't miss your chance to grab one off's, samples, seconds and stock - all 50-75% off! Find fabulous pieces from the current Spring Summer season collection, as well as one-off pieces from Alice,s private vintage collection and jeans galore! There are huge discounts on Alice McCall signature pieces and beautiful diamante shoes so hurry! Check out to view Alice McCall's stunning collection and for Alice McCall AW debut at London Fashion Week. Sale is Cash Only.

When: ONE DAY ONLY: Friday 10th March, 2006. 9.30 am - 6.00 pm
Where: Level 1, 25 Cooper St, Surry Hills
The Bargain Queen hasn't been to an Alice McCall sale before, so can't personally vouch for whether they're great or not. BUT her stuff is gorgeous, so if it's the same clothing at lower prices, this will be a seriously drool-worthy sale.

Your shirt is so over! (but I love you anyway)

There is a special sort of person The Bargain Queen likes to call a 'time capsule'. These are the people you see wandering the streets occasionally, wearing top-to-toe 1989 (mmmm, shoulder pads). Or 1993 (early grunge). Or 2001 (really, the Sydney boob-tube revival is finished). They get their name because they look like they just dug up a time capsule the contained a complete representative outfit from the year it was buried, and decided to don the duds. Sometimes, they even have a particular specialty: for example, mid-90s surfie gear. Unfortunately they're often also distinguishable because their outfits are wildly inappropriate for the lives they now have; their lives have moved on but their wardrobes haven't.

Now note that we're not talking about people who are wearing literally the same clothes as they were in, say 1992 - they're a different bunch altogether. Time capsules are the people who go shopping for a couple of new shirts and gravitate to the ones that look like something Dylan wore on early episodes of 90210 (hence the picture).

But if you think The Bargain Queen is about to criticise their so-over fashion sense, you'd be wrong. See, The Bargain Queen likes to read the semiotic signals people send out in a (mostly) non-judgemental way. So The Bargain Queen gave it a lot of thought, talked to some of her favourite time capsules, and then thought about it some more.

What The Bargain Queen found was that the reasons people stick to styles that no longer work can be heart-rendingly tragic. Dead parents, divorce, illness and moving house to Hicksville are some of the things that came up when The Bargain Queen talked to her favourite time capsules: these all coincided with the years in which these people are stuck, fashion-wise. It seems like they've clung to the time just before something bad happened in the only way they could: through their wardrobe.

If The Bargain Queen is completely honest here, she's done the same thing herself once or twice (our secret!), so she's not in much of a position to judge others for doing it. Five bucks says you have too, at least once in your life.

So if you see someone in a so-over shirt and a time capsule outfit, please go easy on them. There can be some pretty serious psychological stuff under-pinning their inappropriate fashion choices, so pulling them to pieces over it really isn't cool. It's fantastic on TV, but What Not To Wear-style humiliation is really 'don't try this at home'!

Is your ex (favourite shop) stalking you?

Do you have an ex? I mean, an ex-favourite shop? A label you used to see all the time, until you noticed they were taking you for granted, not meeting your needs, not seeing the real you?

And since you’ve stopped seeing them, have they started “accidentally” sending you mail? Making phone calls? Telling you how much they want, need you to come back? And how hard is it to avoid an entanglement with a jilted ex when they bombard you with ‘great’ deals?

Well, don’t stand for it! Don’t put any more of your money into a failed relationship. Ask yourself: why didn’t they give you all this attention before you got tired of their crappy service and inadequate quality? Why is it only now that you’re no longer a customer that they care about you? Before, it was like ‘you don’t call, you don’t write’ – but now you’ve moved on, they can’t get enough of you!

Did you know you can take out a restraining order on spammers? If you want off their mailing lists, contact the Australian Direct Marketing Association (ADMA), and have your name listed on their national ‘Do Not Contact’ service. It’s free, and it means any direct marketing agency or mass-mailer will keep your name in their “suppression file”, stopping mail, phone calls or emails to your address. You can even write to them reply-paid, so you don’t have to pay the postage:

To stop the stalking:

ADMA Do Not Contact Service
T: 1300 792 664 (a local call in Australia)
M: Reply Paid 4054, SYDNEY NSW 2001 (free to post!)

Reclaim your mailbox!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Don't be a fashion victim...

The Bargain Queen LOVES it when fashion stories feature wearable outfits. It doesn't happen very often, but when it does, The Bargain Queen takes notes. The thrill of the 'outfits people actually wear' article, is that you can pick up some great tips.

For example, there's an article in New York magazine showing outfits that their fashion editors want to wear. You could follow these outfits top-to-toe, wear them in public, and not look like a fashion victim. They're great classic outfits, and with the exception of the Fendi Spy bag, not a single piece screams '2006'. And when you consider the pricetags on most of the garments, you'd want them to last a few seasons!

If your budget stretches to one or two pricier items a season, the kind of things in this story are a good guide to what you might like to buy. Classic coats, well-cut trousers, little black dresses, great sunglasses, non-trendy leather handbags and lovely shoes are the kinds of things you're likely to get a lot of wear from. That doesn't mean you have to buy the $1,000 handbags in the story to be a classic dresser though. The Bargain Queen's budget accomodates a $200-on-special Longchamp handbag about once a year, and that's enough to make her feel like she has a lovely bag to finish her outfit.

If you can't afford any pricey items though, that's not a problem. The Bargain Queen has found a top-quality suede coat, a cashmere sweater, designer jeans, amazing vintage dresses and a whole lot of other great classics in the op shop (Australian thrift store).

So if you're looking at something that might be an 'investment' piece (and if you're budget's tight, you probably can't afford anything throwaway), here's some rules to remember:
  • You must love it so much that you'll want to wear it for years.
  • It will be classic, unless you love it enough to wear it when the mags say 'don't'.
  • It must work with things you already have.
  • It shouldn't duplicate something you have already, unless that item is almost worn out or gets so much wear you need two.
  • It must be practical. (i.e. shoes you can't walk in are never a bargain)
  • It must be good quality.
  • It must be within your budget. Spending more than a quarter of your annual budget on one item will almost never work out well.
  • You must have the money to buy it, as credit card interest will quickly make an expensive item ridiculously costly.
If you follow all these rules, or only break them when it makes sense for you, you'll never look like a fashion victim. Hooray!

Note: This post was edited because The Bargain Queen didn't express herself very well the first time around. The original content is over here.

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Quality, price, insanity?

Today The Bargain Queen wants to talk about shopping strategies. There are a few different strategies to living stylishly on a tight budget: some of which work, and some of which dont. These include:

Always buy the cheapest.
This strategy's pretty simple: you always buy the least expensive version available. This strategy works really well for things where quality isn't important because what you need consumable or disposable, or because everything on offer is roughly the same. For example, The Bargain Queen will never pay more for 'better' paper clips. Even with a strict recycling program, most only get used once or twice. The few that do wear out from over-use are rare.

Magazines say that trendy fashion should also be in this category. The Bargain Queen disagrees, because there's really no point in buying things she doesn't like enough to wear many times. Invariably, The Bargain Queen is 'over' cheap fad fashion before she's got $20 worth of wear out of it. So now if she doesn't like something to wear it at least a dozen times, The Bargain Queen leaves it on the rack.

Buy quality and look after it.
This is a better strategy when you're buying things where quality makes a difference, like clothes, furniture, appliances, computer gear, cooking implements and food. (The Bargain Queen puts food is in this category even though it's consumable, because eating well is an investment in health, not to mention saving money on weight-loss products later.) However, it's also a more difficult and time-consuming strategy, because you not only need to be able to pick better quality (the most expensive often isn't the best), but you also need to know how to look after things.

Here's some of the things you'll need to know about in order to buy quality:
  • Clothes: fabric quality, garment construction, how long you'll like the style for
  • Furniture: materials (wood or whatever else), construction, upholstery
  • Applicances: different brands' reputations for quality and service, plus energy efficiency since this determines the cost of running it. Reading some online reviews of the model you want can also be helpful.
  • Computer gear: reputations and service policies of various brands. Again, online reviews are good.
  • Cooking implements: materials and construction again, plus how to determine whether it'll be comfortable to use
  • Food: where to get fresh produce cheaply, what's actually in the packaged food you buy, what a healthy balanced diet looks like
Since that's just some of the things you'll need to know just to buy quality things (and we haven't even started on how to take care of things), it seems like buying good quality could be a lot of hard work. You probably won't want to put that amount of effort into everything you buy, but for some items it's well worth the effort. As a guide, The Bargain Queen buys the best quality she can if she expects to need the item for more than a year.

More expensive = better
For this strategy, you assume that the most expensive version of something is always the best. In some cases this is true, but more often, buying the priciest means half of what you pay goes towards fancy ad campaigns. For example, Louis Vuitton bags. You know those gorgeous ads in all the glossy mags, with Uma or J.Lo or Giselle looking amazing? Well, when you buy the bag, you pay for a piece of plasticised canvas plus part of an ad, which is why they're so expensive. If you can content yourself with a less-hyped bag, you can buy similar quality for a lot less. Oh, and noone will ask you if an 'unknown' bag is fake.

Stick to the middle
The Bargain Queen has met a particular kind of shopper who seems to want their purchases to reflect their middle-of-the-road status. They say "I'm just a normal person", so they don't buy luxury brands at all - which is fine for expensive things, but you have to try Godiva chocolates! On the other hand, these people also say "I'm not cheap", so they won't buy the cheapest thing available or shop somewhere 'icky' like an op shop/ thrift store.

This kind of shopping is madness. The 'middle of the road' is littered with things that aren't much better than the cheapo version, but they cost twice as much and bill themselves as being solidly middle class. If that's what being middle class is about, send me back to poverty!

Having said that, The Bargain Queen does like this strategy for buying disposable things where quality makes a difference. For example, toilet paper. Life is never pleasant with scratchy loo paper, but on the other hand, the fancy stuff is just too expensive. Enough said.

Buy cheap, pretend it's the best
This is the crazy bag lady strategy. It involves buying the cheapest thing you can find, then strutting around pretending it's the greatest thing on earth. It sounds totally nuts, but The Bargain Queen does know people who do this. She's even related to some of them.

If you do this, give it up. It doesn't fool anyone; most people can pick Italian calfskin leather from genuine Chinese plastic. Revel in your bargains! There is no shame in super-cheap shoes if they're cute. But conversely, sometimes you really do need to pony up the dollars and buy better quality (or better yet, find quality at the same price as the el-cheapos).

You probably recognise more than one of these strategies, and that's great. But if you follow one of them all the time, you're stuck in a shopping rut! The Horror! To get out of a shopping rut, The Bargain Queen suggests that you try a different strategy occasionally and see what happens... you might be pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The cheaper cat food challenge

In response to kt's cheaper cat food challenge, The Bargain Queen has been experimenting with ways to feed Queen Kitty more cheaply.

The first idea that's worked out, is feeding the cat a little bit of our food. In theory, it would cost a lot more to feed the cat expensive organic chicken than it does to feed her cat food. In practise, the chicken is free but the cat food isn't.

This only works because we buy chicken anyway, and the cat eats a lot less than we do - so little, in fact, that we don't notice it gone. Say we buy a half dozen thigh fillets to make a big pot of soup. For a 3.4kg cat, a heaped tablespoon of raw chicken with dry food on the side is a day's meal. That's less than a quarter of a thigh fillet, which makes no detectable difference to the soup.

So the cat is thrilled, we used one less tin of cat food, and we still had a great meal that night. This is one idea we'll definitely keep using.

Here's some other ideas we're intending to try:
  • Asking the butcher if they'll sell us some cheap offcuts when we're there next
  • Looking for cheap fish next time we're at the fish markets (those little tins of cat food work out at $10/kilo so anything cheaper than that is a possibility)
  • Comparing the price of small and larger tins of cat food, and switching to bigger tins if they're cheaper
  • Finding a cheaper source of her dry food, or switch her from Royal Canin to something cheaper as Choice magazine suggest there's not much difference
Stay tuned for updates on these!

And speaking of kitties, there's a great article on keeping animal costs down on Frugal For Life, via ReadyMade blog

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More outfits, for free, today!

Rebecca has a great post up about shopping in your closet. The Bargain Queen LOVES closet shopping. If you've never tried it, it's a great way to get more outfits for no money, by making better use of the things you already have. You might find things you've forgotten about, or as Rebecca says:
Even if you don't have any new items, you may have combinations you have never tried.
Here's The Bargain Queen's tips for finding more outfits in your closet:
  • Get organised. The Bargain Queen has another guilty fashion secret to share: often, half her wardrobe is crumpled in the washing basket, waiting to be folded / hung and put away. The first priority for closet shopping is putting everything away where it belongs, so you can see what you've got. While you're at it, making everything look nice helps. For example, if your hanging space is grouped by type, it's easier to work out what's there. The Bargain Queen has dresses and evening tops, then daytime tops from sleeveless to long sleeve, then trousers and skirts, then jackets. Within these categories, everything is organised from lightest to darkest colours. Of course, it doesn't always stay this organised - but whenever The Bargain Queen puts it back in order, at least one forgotten garment comes back into use.
  • Cull. It might seem paradoxical, but getting rid of some of your clothes can help you find more outfits. When you open your wardrobe and see things that don't fit, are the wrong colour, don't go with anything or you just don't like any more, it feels like you have nothing to wear. In contrast, it's surprising how few garments you need in order to have a great outfit each day, if each garment really works for you. If your wardrobe is stuffed with things that aren't quite right but you can't bear to part with, at least move them somewhere else. Out-of-season clothes, things kept for sentimental reasons and evening wear do not belong in your wardrobe, where they'll be in your face every morning.
  • Analyse. What are the main activities you need outfits for? When do you most feel like you have nothing to wear? What do you want those outfits to say about you? Giving some thought to the kind of outfits you need makes it easier to see the things you have that fit the bill. The Bargain Queen never does this as a formal step (how dull), but if you're less fashion-obsessed and haven't thought about this for a while, give it a go!
  • Style. Pretend you're a Hollywood fashion stylist, creating a [glamorous / sexy / sophisticated] outfit for the character called you, in the scene where she's doing what you do each day. Try different combinations and evaluate them for appropriateness as well as good looks.
  • Add an item or two. Buying a single well-chosen item can make a dozen outfits look fresh. For example, a cute new pair of round-toed flats can work with skirts, trousers, dresses and maybe even shorts, and any outfit instantly looks more up-to-date with great shoes. A belt is another item that can give lots of outfits a lift, or you might add a v-neck sweater which works over shirts or camisoles, under jackets and coats, or all by itself. Or you might find that you really do lack something critical - say, black trousers - and filling that wardrobe gap makes all the difference. The key is choosing something that makes you look and feel fantastic, that coordinates with a lot of things you already have.
  • Get creative. Try some unexpected combinations and see if they work. You might be surprised.
  • Have fun. If an outfit doesn't work, laugh about it. Make faces at yourself. If you look like a cow in the ill-advised pony skin coat you bought years ago but never wore, moo at yourself in the mirror (then eBay the coat). This shouldn't be a serious task, because the worst that can happen is you'll look silly for one day of your life - unlike real stylists, whose mistakes show up in magazines for years afterwards.

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