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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Carnival of the Vanities #197

The Bargain Queen's also in this week's Carnival of the Vanities, which rounds up the best posts from all over the web each week. If you're interested, go take a look!

Balancing the beauty budget

If you've ever felt bewildered by beauty products, join the club. There's a product to fix every possible 'problem' with your looks (real or imaginary) and it can be difficult to tell what you actually need and whether spending more gets a better product. Rumour has it that when you buy from a cosmetics counter, you're just getting a supermarket product in prettier packaging, from a pushy sales assistant in prime retail space. Is it true? The Bargain Queen doesn't know; she's never worked in the beauty industry so she's not sure who to believe.

Then there's the 'you'll be ugly if you don't' factor. A lot of advertising suggests that you must buy products to stop the signs of aging before they appear, lest you end up a prune. The Bargain Queen hears that sunscreen's the only thing scientifically proven to stop your skin from aging, but there are a lot of doctors endorsing products that make other claims. And really, how can you tell? Short of using the products on only one side of your face, you'll never know if your skin would look worse if you hadn't used them.

The Bargain Queen's made some disastrous beauty purchases over the years, which she'll tell you about below. She now has a simple rule: she'll buy expensive if it spends all day, every day, sitting on her face. Or if it's perfume. Otherwise, cheap will do.

If you're interested in what's hiding in The Bargain Queen's makeup bag and bathroom cabinet, here's what you'd find:

The (relatively) expensive stuff
If The Bargain Queen could have only one beauty product, she'd pick Clinique Super City Block. She has pale skin and lives in Sydney, Australia so sun protection is the first priority. But if sun cream feels icky on her skin or makes her look like a ghost, she quickly stops wearing it and gets sunburnt instead. So, a good tinted sunscreen like this one is really important. Plus it even her skin out enough that she doesn't need to wear foundation every day... not that she'd bother, anyway.

The other items that The Bargain Queen thinks are worth the extra money are:
  • Lip balm: MAC tinted lip conditioner lasts forever (The Bargain Queen's half-finished tub is over a year old and has been used everyday) and is much nicer on the lips than anything else The Bargain Queen has tried. It keeps them really soft and gives enough colour for every day, so it's basically two-in-one.
  • Perfume: The Bargain Queen HATES cheap perfume. After using beautiful essential oils from France, everything synthetic smells a bit like cat piss. Clinique Simply is quite nice cat piss though, and saves the world from The Bargain Queen's disastrous experiments in wannabe-perfumery. This is a good thing.
  • Mac brow set: This is quite a new purchase, and like most things The Bargain Queen uses regularly, it's dual purpose. It evens out the colour of her bushy, unruly blonde brows and keeps them in place at the same time. Brilliant!
  • Concealer: The Bargain Queen hardly ever bothers with concealer, but when she does it's Clinique Quick Corrector. It goes on very smoothly, unlike any of the cheapies The Bargain Queen's tried and is pale enough to match her skin without looking sickly.
  • Bedroom Hair: This Kusco Murphy styling product is the only product The Bargain Queen normally wears in her hair and she loves it.
Everything except the concealer is used almost every day and on average each of these products lasts a year, so on a cost-per-use basis, they're super-cheap.

The Bargain Queen also bought MAC foundation a while back, because every beauty editor says you must buy good foundation. It looks really nice in photographs but it's way too much for everyday, so the jury's still out on whether it was a good buy. If she became a paparazzi-stalked celebrity tomorrow she'd probably swear by it, but in her real life it's not especially useful.

So how about the cheapies?
If a product's only used occasionally (say, gold eyeshadow), The Bargain Queen keeps it cheap. There is no point paying a stack of money for something that only comes out of the drawer three times a year. It also makes no sense to spend money on things you don't use much because you probably know a lot less about them, so you're more likely to buy the wrong thing. The Bargain Queen's biggest mistakes are Stila eyeshadow and Armani eyeliner pencil. While there's probably nothing wrong with the products, they've never looked good on her. In both cases, the sales girls said they were perfect for her colouring and really easy to use, but neither of these statements turned out to be true. She now prefers to buy four cheap eyeshadows to find one that looks great, than pay for expertise she might not get. (Plus gifting the leftovers to her sister or friends gives her the warm fuzzy glow of giving, which beats the heck out of muddy bronzers.)

The Bargain Queen is also very skeptical about expensive skincare products and mostly sticks to the cheapies. After a few allergic reactions to high-end products, she's not willing to risk much money on a moisturiser she might have to give away. Plus, if dermatologists say the fancy ingredients can't penetrate into the skin, how are they supposed to actually do all that fancy stuff in the ads?

But enough about things The Bargain Queen won't spend much money on. Here's her favourite low-end beauty products:
  • Mascara: The Bargain Queen loves Maybelline Great Lash (which all the beauty editors recommend), and an Australian brand called Face of Australia. These get thrown away as soon as they start clumping (about every three months) so it seems pointless to pay more.
  • Rimmel eyeshadows: The Bargain Queen's an amateur when it comes to eyeshadow application, so all the fancy stuff is lost on her. Her prefered technique is to find a pretty colour and smudge it over her eyelids with her fingers, which would probably make most makeup artists apoplectic. But it works great with these, and if she looks nice, who cares if she achieved it the 'wrong' way?
  • Dove soap: Everyone's favourite, it cleans and moisturises at the same time. This plus a loofah keeps The Bargain Queen's skin looking and feeling nice.
  • Johnsons skincare. The Johnson & Johnson 'gentle' products in the supermarket actually live up to their name, so they're The Bargain Queen's current favourite.
  • Klorane haircare. Gentle, herbal products available in Australian chemists (kind of like American drugstores), they smell lovely and do a great job on hair.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Expensive wedding madness

The Bargain Queen gets really concerned when she hears how much a wedding is expected to cost these days. The average bill is now $28,700 in Australia, £17,740 in Britain and $22,360 in the U.S.A., which seems mad. As a cheapskate bride who's now happily married, she feels it's her duty to offer a dissenting view to the pervading 'your big day must be perfect' messages and hopefully start an anti-bridezilla movement.

To put those big dollar amounts into perspective, here's some of the other things $28,000 will buy you in Australia $28,000:
  • a 10% deposit on a one-bedroom apartment in the most desirable suburbs in Sydney
  • a pretty nice car
  • a year's backpacking alone, or a six-month honeymoon if you take your spouse
  • some pretty serious artwork
Or you can blow it in one day on a wedding... does this strike anyone else as a little bit strange?

The Bargain Queen understands exactly how this happens because from the day she got engaged, she started hearing what she ought to do. Considering she never wanted to get married before she met Mr Bargain Queen, she couldn't find the enthusiasm for $8-apiece invitation cards that she was supposed to feel. Every time she thought about planning a big white wedding she felt like handing the engagement ring back, even though she loved both it and the man. So she picked the sane solution: she opted out. She skipped the church, the bridesmaids, the flower girls, the reception and practically everything that defines a wedding today... and she's still happily married. It's not a choice that works for everyone, but if you haven't dreamed about your wedding gown since you were a little girl, is it really worth $5,000?

There are a lot of people who'll tell you that if you do what we did, you're cheap and nasty - and they're possibly right. The Bargain Queen shocked and offended a few people with her low-key wedding. Otherwise sane people have complex sets of rules about where the ceremony should be held, who must be invited, what you should provide for them and all the other details that go into a very big 'big day'. If you don't obey those rules - and they won't tell you until you've broken one - they get unhappy. But on the bright side, the few people who were really upset with The Bargain Queen's decision are very difficult to please. She'd much rather offend them for free than spend $100+ to them complain that they didn't like the food, the seating plan was wrong, the flowers gave them hayfever and her dress could've been prettier. (Yes, some of The Bargain Queen's relatives are really like this. Maybe some of yours are too.)

If you're planning a wedding, the best advice The Bargain Queen can give you is to skip the bridal magazines and ignore most of the advice you're given. The 'right' way to get married these days is expensive and stressful, so when you're told to do things that doesn't suit your personality or finances, remember that the world won't end if you don't. It takes guts to stand up to everyone's expectations and do what suits you instead, but it beats blowing your hard-earned savings on a wedding day that isn't 'you' - or worse, paying it off your credit card for the next few years.

To put it very bluntly, if you can't skip the trimmings, you shouldn't be getting married at all. It's not wrong to want them - if you do, good luck to you - but you really shouldn't need them. Your wedding day should be blissfully happy simply because you're marrying that person. If it could be spoiled by the wrong flowers, dress, catering or DJ, The Bargain Queen recommends you call it off now. Those are just the trimmings, not the reason for the day. Maybe having them makes the day even better (we don't know, we skipped them) but even a disaster like bad hair should be trivial compared to the joy of making a commitment to the right person.

When it comes to planning your wedding, if you're uncomfortable with a three-ring circus, consider something more basic.
If you strip it down to bare essentials, all you need is to say your vows and sign some forms in front of a registered celebrant. If you do it in a registry office they'll insist you dress reasonably nicely; if not, you can get married in a bikini a la Pamela Anderson, or wear flip-flops (thongs for Aussies) like Sarah Michelle Gellar if it suits you. Legally, that's all there is to it; you can skip all the fanfare and your marriage is still 100% valid.

It's sad that some people are offended by a simple wedding, but look on the bright side: if you've ever been to a no-fun wedding, do you really want to inflict that on your friends (and pay $20,000+ to do it)? Spare your closest friends from your self-designed bridesmaid gowns. If you're not Vera Wang, they're probably hideous. Spare your guests the hours of standing around waiting
; the champagne that runs out; the meal options only you like; the dreaded wedding DJ; and the awkward conversations with your deaf great-aunt or your husband's yokel mate from high school. But most importantly, save your fiance months of tears, tantrums and bridezilla-worthy conduct... at least until the wedding's over and you start renovating ;)

If you really break the rules, you could even turn what could be a mind-numbingly dull day into actual fun... we did!

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This week's Festival of Frugality

The Bargain Queen has an article in this week's Festival of Frugality. If you're interested in some great money-saving tips, be sure to check it out!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

We're in the Coffee and Tea Festival!

Mr Bargain Queen's recent post on saving money on your coffee has made it into the latest Coffee and Tea Festival. Congratulations Mr Bargain Queen!

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What's your favourite post?

The Bargain Queen would like to ask you, her beloved readers, for some feedback. Namely, what's your favourite post on this site, and why?

If you need some help finding your favourite, all The Bargain Queen's posts are organised by topic on, or there are also monthly archives:
Thank you!

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Queen Kitty in Carnival of the Cats

The Bargain Queen's cat, Queen Kitty, is featured in Carnival of the Cats this week. If you like cats it's fantastic entertainment, with more cute cat piccies than you could possibly bear. Enjoy!

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Spotlight one-day sale

For The Bargain Queen's Australian readers, Spotlight are having a one-day, 20% off everything sale TODAY. So if you need any craft supplies, fabric, homewares or linen, it might be a good day to take a look.

They're also having extended trading hours so more people can make it. Most stores are open 'til 9pm; you can check when your local store is open here.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Plotting to beat the winter blues

The Bargain Queen's got a slight case of the winter blues. Here in Sydney, it's been cold and grey for weeks, so she's spent a lot of time indoors next to the heater - but she's usually a social butterfly, so too much solitude doesn't make her feel great.

The good news is, the winter blues is completely treatable because it's caused by an imbalance of two chemicals in the brain (melatonin and serotonin) that can be manipulated without resorting to medication. These chemicals effect your sleep, appetite, attention span, memory, learning and mood. When they're balanced just-so you feel fabulous but if they're not you don't feel great.

Here's some of the things that help even them out again:
  • Getting outdoors each morning. The higher amount of light outdoors compared to inside helps your brain recognise that it's time to be awake, so your serotonin levels go up and your melatonin levels go down, making you more alive and alert. Pity it's so cold in the morning!

  • Keep the house brightly lit. For the same reason, having some bright lights in the house can also help. It sort of tricks your brain into thinking it's summer, so you feel happy and relaxed instead of cold and cranky.

  • Doing some exercise. This causes your body to produce endorphins, another type of brain chemical that make you feel good. It also speeds up the metabolism a little, which helps because it normally slows down in winter so you feel sluggish and gain weight. And as an added bonus, getting off the couch would make The Bargain Queen feel like she was doing something positive about feeling fat and unfit, instead of just complaining about it.

  • Eating lots of complex carbs. Eating sugar also increases serotonin levels, which is part of why chocolate is so amazingly wonderful this time of year. The problem with sugar is that it's in and out of the bloodstream so quickly you need to munch all day to feel great. By contrast, complex carbs add a little sugar to the bloodstream regularly for a few hours while you digest them. Which means that when The Bargain Queen tucks into a big yummy baked potato this time of year, she's really just taking her medicine ;)

  • Having some fun. When you're feeling a bit blue staying at home on the couch often doesn't help much, but doing something you really enjoy outside the house can improve your mood a lot. Which means The Bargain Queen really ought to call her friends and arrange to catch up. Or take a long walk with Mr Bargain Queen. Or go see a fun movie. Or take a trip to the library to find some great books to read. Or do one of the million other things she considers enjoyable.
So what's the bad news? The Bargain Queen just can't be bothered doing most of this today. It's cold, the sky's mostly grey, she's got nothing to wear... She dug out a lamp to put on her desk for some extra light while she's writing at least, but that's about as motivated as she's feeling. She might manage a wander to the hardware store this afternoon to have a chat with the nice old guys about putting up some shelves, and even that will feel like an achievement!

But hey, winter solstice is just past, so things should sort themself out pretty soon. And in the meantime, there's always chocolate :)

PS: There's a more extreme form of the winter blues called Seasonal Affective Disorder, where you get clinically depressed each year instead of just blue. If you've got it, the stuff above won't do you any harm, but it's probably best to talk to someone who knows more about this stuff than The Bargain Queen. Since she's not a doctor and doesn't even play one on TV, she's not qualified to give you proper medical advice so listen to her at your own peril. ;)
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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Showing off: two pairs of Marc Jacobs shoes for $200!

The Bargain Queen has a couple of conflicting impulses. On the one hand, she LOVES beautiful, well designed things. On the other hand, she knows all about the environmental damage, psychological ill-health and financial ruin that are caused by excess consumption and wants no part of it. So when she falls in love with a fabulous designer something, which happens at least once a year, there's no way she'll buy it unless she can fit it into her budget AND will get many years of wear out of it. That doesn't happen very often, but when it does, what a thrill!

The other day The Bargain Queen outdid herself by finding two pairs of Marc Jacobs shoes for under $200 Australian (about US$150) in the winter sales! (OK, she'll admit right now that one pair are knock-offs, so it's not quite as amazing as it initially sounds, but she's still mighty pleased with herself.)

Here's what she bought:

Marc Jacobs rubber boots, $150

Marc Jacobs rubber boots, $150!

Before winter had even started, The Bargain Queen was already obsessing about these Marc Jacobs boots. At the original price of $240, they were only affordable if she trimmed her budget for other things dramatically, so she waited a while. Then they went down to $150 on sale... bingo! As she mentioned before, she only had one pair of waterproof shoes before and they're nearly worn out, so apart from being gorgeous, these also fill a genuine practical need.

Plus they look equally great with a skirt or peeking out under jeans, but not with jeans tucked into them even though that's really fashionable these days. (The Bargain Queen's a full-grown woman and doesn't need her hips to look any bigger than they actually are.)

Marc Jacobs (knock off) flats, $50!

Marc Jacobs (knock off) flats, $50!

While The Bargain Queen was buying the boots, she got talking to the sales assistant about her other current obsession - the adorable Marc Jacobs shoes with the studded bows. They still had the real thing in her size, but only in black with a 4" heel, and they were $500 Australian on sale. The bad news: they weren't going to be marked down any further, so The Bargain Queen was never going to be able to buy them :( Then came the good news: there were knock offs. In the same store. In fact, on the opposite side of that floor!

The Bargain Queen raced over and found them in the sale bin immediately and they were marked down to $50... BUT they were an 8.5, a whole size too small. And they were the only ones left. She tried them anyway, just in case, and they fit perfectly. Score!

Two weeks later, they've been worn practically every day even though it's freezing right now (well, freezing by Sydney standards, so nothing's actually frozen). She's wearing them partly because she's so in love with them, and partly because her inability to buy dull but practical things means she can't wear her boots until she goes shopping and buys some suitable socks. *Sigh*.

But if those boots are enough motivation that the next time she goes shopping for socks, she actually buys some instead of getting bored and going home, they're special boots indeed!

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Online surveys: mostly (but not all) scams

If you spend time online, you've probably seen ads that say something like "you can earn hundreds of dollars doing surveys at home". If you've got a skeptical bone in your body, you've probably concluded it's a scam, and rightly so. It's not possible to earn much money taking surveys - but you might get some free movie tickets like The Bargain Queen did!

A few months ago, The Bargain Queen heard about a site called pureprofile that promises modest rewards like movie tickets, CDs, DVDs and gift vouchers if you take their surveys. She was initially a little wary, but it all looked legitimate so she gave it a go... and five months later, got two movie tickets for her troubles. To earn them, she did about two surveys a month, which took between two and twenty minutes each. That doesn't work out to a fantastic hourly rate, but considering that it came out of time she spends checking email each day, The Bargain Queen's happy with it. (She also secretly likes taking surveys in the hope that companies make more things to her taste.)

So what's the down side? Their customer service is really poor, so try not to email them lest you be treated with as much suspicion as The Bargain Queen was!

IKEA's sale is on

The Bargain Queen was in IKEA the other day looking for shelves and noticed that their annual sale is on. There were some fantastic buys there, including great lamps, chairs and vases at steep discounts (pity our place is so small we can't buy any more stuff!). If you've never been to the IKEA sale, it's one of the few heavily advertised ones that The Bargain Queen recommends. It's on 'til the end of June and if you'd like to see what's on offer, there's some examples here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Where The Bargain Queen's been...

The Bargain Queen took a week off without warning and owes you, her beloved readers, a brief explanation.

The Bargain Queen has been away getting to know her father, stepmother and brothers for the last week, which is admittedly a strange thing for a 27 year old to be doing. She didn't know them growing up because her mother was the 'other woman' and her existence was a big secret. She recently got the chance to spend some time with them and she's making the most of it - especially since her father's 80 and her stepmother's 75!

So please excuse the absence and come back tomorrow when regular posting resumes!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Bargain Queen's in Melbourne

The Bargain Queen's in Melbourne this week to visit her family. She'll post as much as she can, but since that involves kicking her 80 year old father off his computer and out of his study, it might be an uphill battle! So please excuse her if she's a bit quiet for a few days.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Guess what? Food grows on trees!

The Bargain Queen walks a LOT and loves it, but there's one thing she often sees that makes her cranky. While she's wandering around the suburbs, she likes to take a peak at what other people have done with their gardens. Mostly this is really enjoyable since people have such beautiful plants, but sometimes it seems like people don't think about what it is they're growing, so they let delicious food go to waste through neglect.

For example, a nearby house has a hedge of fig trees. When the figs are in season, they fall off the tree and rot on the ground. At the same time the fruit shop up the road sells near-identical produce for $2 apiece. In another backyard near The Bargain Queen's old house, there was a lilly pilly tree which produced a fantastic crop of fruit each year. Again, the fruit would be left to rot and fall from the tree, which apart from being wasteful also stains the surrounding concrete paths really badly. These aren't isolated examples - we've seen everything from olives to lemon grass to mangoes go to waste.

Why do people do this? Maybe the lilly pillies were just too difficult; they're a native Australian fruit that's only really delicious made into chutney or jam (jelly for American readers) and possibly only foodies know this. Likewise olives need some processing to be yummy... but what about figs? They're pretty fantastic straight from the tree, as are mangoes.

The Bargain Queen's going to assume that people just don't know what they're doing with these plants and offer a few pointers.

Firstly, if you have something in your garden that might be edible but you're not sure, it's not hard to find out what it is. If you know any keen gardeners, ask them; if not, take a cutting to your local garden store and ask them help you identify it. Alternatively, your local library will usually have a plant identification guide and these also often turn up in discount bookstores if you want your own copy. As a last resort, the internet can sometimes be useful too, although our experience suggests you need to know roughly what sort of plant it is and what it might be called to narrow the search down. If anyone can recommend a good plant identification web site, please do!

Secondly, some basic care will make the food your garden produces a lot tastier. That means watering, fertilising and taking care of any pests before they eat everything. (OK, The Bargain Queen neglects some of these things when she's busy too... but any effort is better than none.) Some plants also need to be pruned annually. Once you know what the plant is called, it's usually easy to find lots of information online about growing them. For example, a three-minute Google search turned up great information on growing figs, mangoes, herbs and fruit trees.

Thirdly, what to do with all that food? Many fruit trees will provide a large enough crop that you'll be sick of eating the produce long before it runs out. Funnily enough, or ancestors had exactly that problem and devised many solutions for preserving food. Fruit can be dried, frozen or made into jam/jelly or chutney. Many vegetables can also be dried, as can fresh herbs. Again, the internet is great for finding out how to do this - there are many comprehensive guides to making jam, drying fruits and vegetables and drying herbs, seeds and nuts.

Or if all of that sounds like too much work, give the excess away! When you're completely sick of oranges and can't stand to eat another one, your friends, neighbours and co-workers who don't have a tree full of them in their backyard are likely to be happy to take some off your hands. You could even give some to a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen and earn yourself some good karma.

Just please don't let food rot on the ground, it makes The Bargain Queen cranky!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Your past is right there on the shelf

The Bargain Queen and Mr Bargain Queen desperately have to cull some of their possessions. They recently moved into a smaller, unrenovated place and have room for about half the stuff they actually have. The apartment has one bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and a living room for a total of around 40 square metres (400 square feet). It's not exactly where we expected to be living at this point in our life, but we're making the renovation as much fun as we can.

But before we can move any further into the fun stuff - refinishing floors, selecting joinery, knocking out walls - we have to make the place livable enough that we don't go mad before it's all done. That means turning four small run-down rooms into space for us to sleep, eat, cook, coif, lounge, work, study... and store the wardrobes of two vain people as well. It's not as impossible a task as it seems, but it does mean questioning some of our priorities.

For a start, The Bargain Queen has inherited a lot of family memorabilia that has previously been deemed too precious to part with. What to do with it all when there's no space to store it and no free surfaces on which to display it? The Bargain Queen's mother has refused to take it back, which leaves two options: post it to her anyway, or cause great offence by getting rid of it. To be very blunt about it, none of these things are especially attractive; many of them belonged to people we never knew; and they're the least useful stuff in the place. As it nears a point where The Bargain Queen must choose whether she has room in this pokey apartment for her family's past, or for her own present and future, the decision looks clear. Goodbye charming old junk, hello space for today.

The Bargain Queen and Mr Bargain Queen also keep a helluva lot of books. Saying we have a metric tonne of them is only a small exaggeration; we have more than 20 boxes of them, weighing over 20 kilograms each and that gets us halfway there. So far, the strategy is to cull anything we're unlikely to read again (or won't admit to having ever owned). We'll then put some shelves up above the bedroom door to accomodate our paperbacks and see if our home looks less like a second-hand bookstore. We're aiming for only one freestanding bookshelf instead of three; we'll see what measures it takes to get there.

Next on the agenda is The Bargain Queen's office. She works from home when she's well enough to work, and that's been excuse enough to indulge her stationery fetish. A foot-high stack of paper for a printer that doesn't work? It's lust not logic at work there.

There's also a well-overdue wardrobe cull to do; some near-dead plants to put out of their misery; many boxes of our own memorabilia (as opposed to family stuff) that never get opened; and a CD collection long since superceded by iTunes. There's certainly a surfeit of things that could go to make more room. The question is, can The Bargain Queen put aside sentimentality for long enough to do it?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Why we love imaginary shopping

The Bargain Queen loves beautiful things. Love love LOVES them. But that doesn't mean she can have all the gorgeous things she'd like. For example, she's currently in love with some stunning Marc Jacobs heels, and they're $500 Australian on sale. Eep! No way they're going to fit into this year's clothes budget!

The Bargain Queen's response to having a crush on unaffordable Marc Jacobs goodies is to check eBay, and a few other American sites. What counts as new season, $800+ merchandise in Australia is often already in the hands of eBay sellers and discounted to US$200 elsewhere. That's still expensive, but it's in 'occasional treat' territory rather than being completely off limits.

Unfortunately, noone has these particular shoes on eBay any more - they're from three seasons ago and they're still $500 here. The Bargain Queen is in the mood to name and shame, so it's David Jones she's talking about here. They sell lovely things, but some of them have been on the shop floor for years!

So The Bargain Queen consoled herself with some imaginary shopping. Instead of buying a single thing she can't afford, she finds a whole lot of gorgeous things online, puts them in her shopping cart, then looks at the total and gets really pleased that she's leaving that money in the bank instead!

This was The Bargain Queen's latest imaginary shopping expedition:

Marc by Marc Jacobs bag, $197

Tocca jacket, $249

...and since imaginary shopping has no limits in terms of extravagence...

Gucci watch, $600

So for three little items, if The Bargain Queen could pick anything she wanted, it'd be US$1,046. That's a pretty steep imaginery total! Add in international shipping, tax and insurance and it's US$1,390, which is almost $1,800 Australian... which is a cheap airfare to Europe or an all-expenses-paid holiday in New Caledonia.

Suddenly, The Bargain Queen's happy with her budget-conscious life again!

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Monday, June 05, 2006

I'm not fat, these clothes are too small!

The Bargain Queen is going to have a little rant today, and probably only the girls will relate to it - sorry boys! What she wants to know is why do some fashion labels make their sizing so tiny? Do they really not want money from anyone larger than the house model? One Australian designer is famous for saying he doesn't want 'fat chicks' wearing his clothes... but surely that strategy doesn't work for everyone?

Clothes sizing isn't something The Bargain Queen normally thinks about. She mostly doesn't care what the numbers say; every brand cuts their stuff differently so of course the numbers vary. She's an L at stores aimed at teens and an XS at stores for the middle-aged but she doesn't care. If it fits, no worries. But she just had one of those sad, tragic changing room experiences that made her feel like an overweight hippopotamus and it got her thinking.

The Bargain Queen was checking out the winter sales that just started in Sydney and tried on a label she doesn't normally wear. The garments were beautiful, well priced even before the mark down and there were racks of different styles to choose from. It looked like a great buy, but gorgeous clothes end up on sale racks for a reason. Sometimes they were priced too high; sometimes unseasonal weather makes them unnecessary that year; sometimes the store's buyers miscalculate their customers' tastes. But sometimes, noone buys the clothes because noone fits in the clothes.

So The Bargain Queen went into the changeroom... and nothing from this label fit. At all. She tried the medium, she tried the large. She had acres of flesh hanging out all over the place in both of them. Ugh! Really not something anyone wants to see.

Now this would be fair and reasonable if The Bargain Queen was bigger than the general population. OK, she does have a little bit of winter padding right now... but she's currently an Australian size 12 (equivalent to a US 8 or a UK 10) which on a 5'7" frame is not enormous. To put it into perspective, the most recent research on Australian body sizes found that the average 16- to 24-year-old woman fits a size 16! So why is she way too big for the large size garments?

There are a whole lot of possible explanations. Perhaps the designer thought the fabric had more stretch than it does. Maybe they made a terrible mistake while they were grading the patterns and the small size became the large. Maybe they expected shorter people, who also tend to be smaller, to buy their clothes. Or maybe they actually do want to keep 'fat chicks' out of their clothes.

The lesson The Bargain Queen should have taken from all this is that she gets convinced that she's fat a little too easily. So one manufacturer makes clothes for the super-slim... so what? She also tried things from a brand she buys regularly and was roughly the same size as usual, which should be evidence enough that she's not enormous. And even if she was overweight, there are much worse things you can be. (Unhealthy. Mean. Pedantic. Sociopathic...)

As for the manufacturer, it's unlikely the department store was pleased to have racks of their clothes left at the end of the season to mark down. If their super-small sizing is working for them, it's not happening at that store.

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Cheap, chic and (mostly) sane

The Bargain Queen has a strategy to keep herself reasonably sane no matter what life throws at her. Since it's a lot cheaper then pills, counselling, retail therapy, excessive drinking or any of the other things you might try to get through a difficult time, she thought she'd share it.

A quick disclaimer though: The Bargain Queen is totally not qualified to advise anyone with an actual, diagnosed mental illness. She's mostly sane and this works to keep her that way. If you're also just going through a tough time, this might help; if there's something more serious happening then you probably need more qualified help than The Bargain Queen! But enough disclaimer...

The Bargain Queen's strategy is really just about maintaining a sense of hope at all times. It's not complicated or difficult and you don't need to buy anything to do it. You don't even have to attend meetings or read the right web sites. All you do is make a small step towards one of your goals every day.

Of course, that means you have to have some goals. For some people that's really easy (The Bargain Queen always has goals; she's a little avaricious) but some people find it hard to work out what they want from life. The only advice we can give is to pick something and give it a go. Noone is ever 100% sure that they're shooting towards the right thing, so it doesn't really matter if you're not completely certain. Working towards something gets you a lot further than not working towards anything. Plus whenever The Bargain Queen's got what she wanted only to find it's not so great, she's been able to trade it for something that's a better fit.

So what are The Bargain Queen's goals today?
  1. Live a happy, fulfilled life despite having a nasty incurable illness
  2. Live overseas for at least a few years of her life
  3. Be financially secure enough to not have to do work she hates ever again
  4. Be surrounded by beautiful things
  5. Create stuff she's really proud of (and ideally get rich and famous along the way, but that's probably too much to ask!)
The next part is to do something little towards those goals each day. It doesn't have to be anything dramatic, although if something significant presents itself, of course The Bargain Queen jumps on it! Most days, it's something like these though...
  • To have a happy life, The Bargain Queen makes the best of each day. If she's not well enough to get out of bed she reads a good book or works on her laptop. On a good day, she tries to squeeze some fun in between catching up on all the practical stuff she hasn't been well enough to do.

  • The Bargain Queen's best hope of living overseas right now is to get Mr Bargain Queen through his degree - he'll be a qualified English and Japanese teacher when he's finished. She mostly just keeps out of his way when he needs to study, but she does encourage him to try to teach her Japanese even though it makes her brain hurt.

  • To be financially secure, she sticks to the budget Mr Bargain Queen calculated and does what she can to contribute financially when she's not well enough to work... which mostly means finding cheaper sources for everything she ever has to buy.

  • In terms of creative output, The Bargain Queen has her blog, she's re-designing the apartment and when she's not well enough to do those, there's always cross stitch!
While that's all pretty specific to The Bargain Queen's goals, there's plenty of little things that can be done to help you creep up your goals too. For example, you might become better informed about the things you want by borrowing a book from the library, reading a newspaper article or checking out the blog of someone who's where you want to be. You could learn new skills by taking a short course, or you could strengthen your existing skills by practising for a few minutes each day. You can also spend time keeping in touch with people who know things you'd like to know, or looking for cheap sources of any supplies you need. It doesn't have to all follow a grand plan, it just has to offer some chance of helping you get where you want to be.

The point is, you can turn those "gee my life sucks" days into "life sucks but I'm really enjoying the book I'm reading" or "today ain't so great but I've almost got enough saved for that holiday in Spain" or "I hate this town but I'm moving soon", which makes it all a smidgen more bearable. It's stopped The Bargain Queen from sliding into depression a couple of times when things weren't going so well, and helped things come good again at the same time; maybe it'll work for someone else too.

But enough of the serious stuff - back to the fun fashion frivolity tomorrow ;)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Showing off: two winter coats, $126

In Australia, the coldest part of winter has just started so it's time to pull out some warm clothing.

This is a clothing category The Bargain Queen usually neglects because she lives in Sydney where there's only three 'cold' months a year and it never gets below freezing. We have no snow, no frozen waterways and not much frost... but we also don't have the fantastic ducted heating which is standard in colder places. That means we don't have the option of throwing a long North Face coat over our outfit until we get where we're going because indoor and outdoor temperatures don't vary as much. So here, your warm layers have to be an integral part of the ensemble because you're going to be wearing them most of the day.

So after looking at her pathetic selection of winter coats, The Bargain Queen decided it was time to go shopping. Here's what she came home with:

Warm puffy grey jacket, $50

grey winter jacket

This was $50, marked down from $130 at Witchery in Birkenhead Point in Sydney. It isn't glamourous but it's warm and waterproof which makes it very useful. It replaces a threadbare, oversized snowboarding jacket The Bargain Queen's worn on wet days for the last five years - an unfortunate consequence of buying beauty over practicality. 'Nuff said.

Black military jacket, $76.30

black winter jacket

Like most black clothes, this hasn't photographed very well. It's a black military-style shrunken blazer that was $76.30 down from $169 at the David Jones Warehouse in Birkenhead Point.

While it's not very warm by itself, The Bargain Queen bought it a couple of sizes large so she can wear a sweater underneath it. The combined warmth of a cotton t-shirt, cotton sweater, cotton blazer and a scarf is usually enough in Sydney, even in the depths of winter.

As for the military thing, The Bargain Queen loves the big brass buttons and the cute little epaulettes... but is military in or out this year? Every 'hot or not' column she's seen recently has mentioned it, but they're equally split on whether it's 'new and great', 'completely over' or 'classic'. It's all way too confusing for The Bargain Queen: one more reason she ignores the dictates of fashion and just does what works for her!

  Want more? Visit The Bargain Queen's new site.